To love Regina Spektor is to love the noises she makes. Alone onstage, she's enamored of the musical possibilities of her vocal chords. You can tell. She's cooing and clicking and creating her own little rhythm section between breaths, between lyrics, carried along with her only companions on the stage, her piano and guitar.
She played Toad's Place, finally -- third try's the thing -- Sunday, March 2 after cancelling two previous shows here -- in November and December -- for a long bout of vertigo. And while the sell-out show was attended by her most devout of fans, apparently some had forgotten that their Russian-born songbird ever set her sights on Richmond: There were apparently a couple hundred tickets at will call that weren't, by the time she mounted the piano stool, claimed.
But those that were there clearly had come for every warble and bloop out of Regina's lovely pout. And after an earnest, if somewhat lacking, opening by halo-haired Brooklynite Only Son (who sounds, admittedly, better on his MySpace page, but suffers from the singer-songwriter-with-a-band-name affliction, as in, "Hi, pleased to meet you. I'm Iron and Wine.") His own synthesized bloops and skwarks introduced fair Regina and her own menagerie of sounds pretty well, Regina who shuffled onstage and opened with percussion provided by thumping the microphone with two fingers. And then onward, to her piano.
Now I think it's safe to say that Regina's really endearing, adorable and talented, and that much of the audience, male and female (she's got an impressive lesbian following) was hoping she'd clasp her hands before her, look down into the crowd, and sort of shyly choose someone to spirit back to what's probably a very cozy New York loft with like beanbag chairs everywhere. If you like her, you love her. If you're a lukewarm fan, you might wonder why she wouldn't tour with a band to bring in some of the thwonging bass or rattling snare of a song like, say, "Better." For that one she did ch-ch along with herself and her piano, ensuring that a few more hearts in the audience drifted to those many promised beanbag chairs.
Her Tori Amos parallel has probably been well-chronicled, from the unruly curls to the unnervingly sincere, nearly childlike sexuality. And where Tori Amos famously makes love to her piano bench, Regina Spektor makes love to her voice box.
And like Tori, she's a bit peculiar. Toad's has some logistical issues when it comes to seeing the artist (if you're not in the front couple of rows upstairs, forget it -- though they did install some risers in the back to offset this predicament). Hence the many screens around the place, all of which were off when she came on. Until after a song when the crowd got up the courage to cross the room and ask her to demand that Toad's put her on the big screen above her head. Which they did, to great rejoicing, and which Regina rewarded by adorably looking at herself, remarking thereupon and making a fine time of it, despite the fact that it was she who had asked that the screens be turned off in the first place; they disturbed her.
She's the kind of weird girl at the party who seems deadly shy but is more than delighted to pick up the guitar and spin off a few songs birthed on the spot. Creation seems to come naturally to her. Creation and the fine range of her voice, which, unlike many a louder show at Toad's, highlighted the exceptional delicacy of the venue's sound system. You may not have been able to see her all that well, but everywhere you went, she was whispering in your ear.
So for the fans who wished for more instrumentation, perhaps, or something a little less cute, the show might have lacked. But then here you have this encore, in which, among other things, old Only Son comes out to beatbox for her, and I thought, oh I get it now, they're dating, no shot for the rest, and she does her rather sublime "Fidelity" and you hear what the beanbag-dreamers are dreaming of.
Then you hear her perform something like her final song, "Samson," and there under the little star-lights hovering all over the stage, you realize that, hey, Virginia Woolf was probably a little weird at parties too, and that those peculiarities fall away pretty fast when they show you that one beautiful thing. That'll justify a whole life, sometimes.
Now on the way out, and as a completely lovely surprise, local outfit Mermaid Skeletons was playing in the Highwater Restaurant. You'll know them by the half-dozen or so acoustic guitars in the band and by a really delightful, not-entirely-unironic folky sound that belongs in any one of the slow motion shots from a Wes Anderson movie. (They're playing Honey Whyte's March 8, should you wish to confirm these things I say.)
They thanked Regina for opening for them and that pretty much made the night.