Regina Spektor graced St. Louis with her ever-adorable presence in support of her recent studio release, What We Saw From the Cheap Seats on Thursday, November 8. Without having any overly elaborate set-up or production, she and her modest 3-piece back-up band wowed a sold-out crowd at The Pageant. Opening for Spektor was Only Son, the moniker of singer/songwriter Jack Dishel, who also happens to be Spektor’s husband. Pretty adorable, right?
Photo by Micah Mickles
Dishel lived up to his stage name by going solo on this tour (though he does frequently play with some back-up musicians, who can be found on the recent Only Son album Searchlight). He came out and played a heartfelt and intimate opening song, then paused to introduce his “band”: a lone iPod, glowing on the stool beside him. Dishel’s stage presence remained awkwardly charming throughout, and his dark, curly white-guy ‘fro and leather jacket made him look a little like a young Bob Dylan. Even when he pulled out an occasional (well-received) quip, he came off as a pretty shy, soft-spoken fellow. His only weakness was probably his “band”—while they were totally spot-on musically and it all sounded great (I mean, it damn well better), there was just some sort of element or chemistry that was lacking on those songs. There were even a couple of songs where his guitar was so well-mixed with the iPod, he might very well have had his volume down, and we’d never be any the wiser. His solo songs were awesome, though. He mentioned mid-set that the last time he’d played in STL, it was at the Creepy Crawl. There was a cheer from the crowd, though mostly from folks over 21. He plugged the video for his last song of the set by telling us to go watch it because he pisses off Macaulay Culkin in it. Hell, I’m sold—Dishel seemed like a cool guy and, iPod aside, he really is a great musician and songwriter.
After the crew painstakingly hauled out and arranged Regina Spektor’s huge, shining, gorgeous Steinway piano, Spektor walked directly out to center stage and took hold of the microphone. Her first lyrics, on “Ain’t No Cover,” were sung a cappella, and the only sound in all the Pageant, besides her hauntingly beautiful, grandiose voice, was her index finger gently tapping on the microphone. Spektor then took her seat at the piano, and her backing musicians joined her onstage. They had a pretty simple set-up: a cellist and keyboard player seated downstage from Spektor, and a drummer tucked so far stage right and behind a clear drum shield that he was out of view from his side of the balcony.
Five songs in, the band set into the instrumental opening to “Small Town Moon,” and Spektor opened her mouth to start singing but stopped all at once. In her shy, demure speaking voice, she apologized for stopping the song, explaining sheepishly that she got freaked out by one photographer’s cameras up front, which was doing a “scary rapid-fire photo thing.” And you could tell she didn’t want to yell at anyone but rather make it seem like she was the one who was being inconvenient—it was all very sweet and humanizing, rather than what could have easily turned into a rock’n’roll asshole moment with words chosen less carefully. She modestly encouraged the photographers to please keep taking lots of pictures, but maybe not rapid fire, if they wouldn’t mind. The crowd all just wanted to give her a big hug—only Spektor could make a show glitch so sweet and endearing.
She went old school for a couple songs, then returned to newer material. Midway through “Eet” she lost track of some lyrics (which I’d been warned was not uncommon for Spektor), but she laughed it off and jumped right back in without missing a beat on the piano. As that song concluded, she stood up from the piano to welcome Dishel back up, and they met center stage for a beautiful duet, “Call Them Brothers,” that can be found on Only Son’s album. “The Prayer,” which followed, was sung in its original Russian lyrics, and then Spektor made her way across the stage to a previously untouched keyboard to jump into “Dance Anthem of the ‘80s.” She returned to the Steinway for another handful or so of songs before ending a great set that touched a decent, though not overwhelming, expanse of her career. She and the band returned for a four-song encore, ending on “Samson,” one of her slower, more serious songs, and leaving the crowd charmed and pleased not only by Spektor’s gorgeous music, but by her quirky, girl-next-door stage presence.