I feel like a proud Dad!
Quirky singer/pianist a Spektor to behold
By Larry Katz
Friday, April 1, 2005 - Updated: 12:13 AM EST
Regina Spektor is standing outside the Sam Ash music store on W. 47th Street in Manhattan talking to me by cellphone.
``I'm having last-minute-before-going-on-tour craziness,'' she says.
``I just bought a keyboard. It's only someone like me who leaves buying a keyboard to the day before the tour.''
Spektor - and her keyboard - arrive tonight at the Paradise Lounge in Boston. She's on her first tour since the official release of her first major-label album, ``Soviet Kitsch,'' and her rough edges are still showing, which is part of her ingenuous appeal.
The 25-year-old Spektor isn't quite a novice. She gained experience in the ``anti-folk'' scene in downtown New York clubs before Julian Casablancas heard her and invited her to tour as the Strokes' opening act. That gig led to a stint opening for the Kings of Leon in Europe.
Wasn't it intimidating for a virtually unknown singer/pianist to play big-time rock 'n' roll shows, especially without the support of a band?
``Sometimes it was tough,'' she says, ``sometimes not. It depends. If there are enough (expletives) in the audience you can have 700 people onstage with you and it's still a battle. But going out with the Strokes was my first-ever tour. I had a lot to learn. I didn't even know how to use the monitors.''
Spektor came to the United States with her family in 1989 from the then-Soviet Union in search of more freedom and less anti-Semitism. She also thought she'd find a pet here. A very large pet.
``You know how I pictured the United States?'' she says. ``Like `The Jungle Book.' I thought it was a big safari. I don't know where I got the idea, but I thought everybody had a pet lion or tiger. Then we got to the Bronx and there were no pets. But I loved it anyway.''
Spektor drifted from teenaged classical piano studies to performing her own songs for classmates while a student at Purchase College in New York's Westchester County. After she put out her own independent CD while working New York clubs, drummer Alan Bezozi introduced her to Gordon Raphael, the producer of the Strokes. Spektor was game, but had one question: ``Who are the Strokes?''
Raphael and Bezozi liked Spektor enough to produce an album's worth of her songs. She released it herself as ``Soviet Kitsch,'' and now it's available in all its raw and quirky beauty - along with a bonus DVD - on Sire Records. On one track, Spektor is accompanied by the full-out assault of the punk band Kill Kenada, elsewhere by bassist Graham Maby, cellist Jane Scarpantoni and a handful of others. But it's Spektor's playful voice, her guileless piano and striking lyrics that grab your attention.
The critics have been lavish in their praise. Spektor gets compared most often to Tori Amos, Fiona Apple and Cat Power, but Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone are also mentioned. Spektor doesn't buy it - especially the Tori Amos part.
``I get annoyed,'' she says. ``People can't get past the girl-and-her-piano image. . . . I've listened to a million Bob Dylan records, not Tori Amos records.''
What about the writer who said, ``Think Joni Mitchell meets Bjork''?
``OK,'' she says, ``I've listened to a lot of Bjork. But why is it always, `She's a cross between this songwriter and that songwriter,' or `If these two songwriters had a love child,' or `If we locked these two songwriters in a room together'?''
Maybe because Spektor is the one kind of musician hardest to describe: a true original, rough edges intact.
Regina Spektor plays tonight at the Paradise Lounge, Boston. Tickets are $10. Call 617-562-8814.