Regina Spektor is full of surprises. Her swooping piano lulls you to sleep and her lyrics twist and turn, until phrases jump out at you – unexpected snatches of sex and drugs and the kind of banal incidents that ring true. On Tuesday night, wearing a sparkly silver-black dress in front of a simple set that looked like stars in the night sky, she used every trick in her bag to pull off an entertaining 90-minute show alone at the piano.
Spektor’s secret weapon was steady doses of quirky yet well-staged improvisation. She sang a capella while tapping a beat on the microphone; broke into rapid handclaps; burped; sang in Russian; played electric guitar for a couple of numbers; and beat out a rhythm with drumsticks on a chair. Without the kick drums and synthesisers that backed her breakthrough album from last year, Begin to Hope, her songs flowed together a little too seamlessly at times. But tactics such as these made lovelorn ballads seem like jaunty affairs.
Inevitably, Spektor’s off-kilter style invites comparisons with other female keyboard players. The dramatic, tempestuous rise and fall of her piano and her abstract lyrics recall Fiona Apple. Her sing-song cadences and tempo fluctuations are reminiscent of Nellie McKay. Yet she is less kooky and more focused than either, and her songs are more straightforward in their immediate appeal, if not quite as unique. She is also less neurotic – self-conscious, but in quite a confident way.
Dressed in her glittery frock, Spektor spent most of the time sitting down, but filled the room with earnestness. She values the naivety of childhood, which means she can also come across as childish at times – she flirts perilously close to twee, especially when she dips into nursery rhyme cadences. She greeted the audience by saying “welcome to my house”, and said “I hope that you’re all gonna be good always” as she left. Several times she lost the thread of a song, only to apologise, giggle and calmly make it seem like part of the show. The capacity audience hung on every word, laughing at her jokes and rooting her on. Like an adored prodigy, she was charming and annoying by turns.