Last Night: Regina Spektor at House of Blues

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Regina Spektor House of Blues November 8, 2007

Better than: Watching an indie rock band perform on a college campus.

Review: The first Tori Amos album I listened to was Boys for Pele and it was transitory. The first time an adolescent girl hears a woman bleeding and screaming over a piano is a memory she'll take to the grave. I didn't make it to a Tori concert until I was 19 (despite the To Venus and Back show at a venue TWO MILES from my house ON MY 16th BIRTHDAY--I don't want to talk about it), and it was on her Scarlet's Walk tour, which was the first mile marker of Tori's long, shameful descent into Adult Contemporary obscurity.

I drove six hours with two girlfriends to see the show in a stadium and it was completely gorgeous. That tiny redhead held thousands of fans in her sway. By the encore, which was a soft, tinkling rendition of "Twinkle," every face in my row was streaked with ecstatic tears.

Regina Spektor bears obvious similarities to Ms. Amos: petite waif who can work a larynx and a piano and can conjure the rise and fall of empires, or at least love affairs, with her lyrics. The woman tweaks at a secret seated deep in my solar plexus, just the way Tori used to do. So last night, despite the dreaded/dreadful venue (HOB), I had delirious expectations for Mlle. Spektor.

I should have known by the drunk girl in a glaring pink dress, ranting at the security guards who'd thrown her out near the entrance. I should have known by the trio of lipsticked girls who fluttered past us to the VIP room while we stood patiently in line to turn in our tickets. But the real portent should have been the steady stream of twos and threes filing silently out of the 20 minutes-gone set as we filed in...

The house was full of chatty people. It echoed Tori's description of working in a D.C. piano bar in her starving days, long before "Me and a Gun." While Regina tinkled through "Fidelity," people milled around and talked about their 11 a.m. classes. My girlfriend and I pushed closer, to get a better view, but the effect was unchanged. Spektor simply could not pull the energy of the audience into that symbiotic mind meld that hypes singer and crowd into the throes of concert ecstasy. She was...boring. A sweet, precocious face to pin to the piano-pounding chanteuse who has accompanied me through my breakup with Tori and into a few sweet subsequent years. There was no aural variation, no tete a tete with the audience, no compelling performance, no real offering to the fans. It was a live-action version of a studio album.

Maybe it's a recipe for disaster: a mid-level artist rockets to superstardom in the liminal space between albums and her second tour sells out, summons thousands per show. The light show was beautifully designed, but how does a single girl manage a crowd that size with almost no practice?

Toward the end of the show, while high school girls held their cell phones aloft, singing along with best friends tuning in over hissing Cingular connections, I could not stop yawning. The girlfriend squeezed my elbow.

"You tired?"

"No, bored. This is totally underwhelming."

"Oh man, me too. I didn't want to tell you."

"No, no, it's OK. Now I know I should listen to her albums and not bother seeing her live." Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the girl in front of me nodding vigorously. "See? She agrees with me."

"Actually?" She said, "I listen to her albums. And I'm enjoying this. So Shhhh."

Which is just about the moment that I realized that a girl's deep, intense investment in stripped pianos and heartbreaking lyrics might come only once in her life, and that maybe I'd spent mine up already. What a shame! -- Farren Stanley

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