Regina Spektor Live In London Movie Review
Back in the day a live album was usually some kind of contractual filler, an exercise in thanks-very-much--now-here's-the-hits. To complement their throwaway nature, normally the sound quality varied between post-production airbrush or third rate bootleg, leaving the listener none the wiser either way as to how the thing actually went.
The changed mechanics of the twenty first century music biz means that playing live now equals the best way to make a buck, especially if your star has faded in actual unit shifting terms (Ask The Police, Bon Jovi et al) and the release of a concert DVD is now a bona fide event, as opposed to something your old label makes you do under threat of withholding your royalties.
Arriving in New York after fleeing Russia in the Perestroika era, Regina Spektor began to rapidly broaden the horizons originally set by her father's behind the Iron Curtain tape swapping - The Moody Blues, Beatles and Queen - to accommodate a raft of sounds from punk to gospel. This cultural downpour all added more grist to a fervent childhood songwriter's vista, creating a maverick, boundary free spirit of creativity that leaves her work best described as somewhere along the admittedly broad vector between PJ Harvey, Emiliana Torrini and Karen Carpenter.
It's a di/tri-chotomy which has sometimes spawned confusion amongst listeners, hence her comparatively far from meteoric career progression since the relase of her major label debut album Soviet Kitsch in 2003. If selling out the Hammersmith Apollo as here is anything to go by however, her slow-ish burning rise to popularity is now reaping dividends.
Recorded in late 2009, the unoriginally entitled Live In London contains both audio and visual chapters for this growing army of fans, but the CD version is in truth a little two dimensional in nature, with the crowd reduced to an occasional appreciative gesture. To add to the feeling that the performance could've been taking place in any empty room, the singer herself remains casually enigmatic throughout, with any between-song vignettes removed: on this evidence, Bono she is not. By the time the stomping country sounds of final track Love You're A Whore roll into view, the listener is left praying for a misplaced chord or bum note, any kind of proof in fact that Pro Tools wasn't totally in command.
Churlish? well, the main event here is of course the actual footage, with our heroine taking to the stage looking impossibly pale with a smear of bloody lipgloss across her face, looking impossibly pale and wearing a simple black dress. Before this turns into a piece for Grazia, she's also playing an impressive Steinway Grand piano (Borrowed, the sleeve notes reveal) whilst occasionally picking up an impossibly aqua coloured guitar.
The bulk of the material here is from US breakthrough album Begin To Hope and its successor Far, showcasing the emigrees' gift for bringing richly evocative stories to life from lyrics which are normally profound but occasionally banal.
Opening with the sublime On The Radio, both Blue Lips and Après Moi are richly baroque, drawing on classicist roots and her sense of deeply melodic ingenue.
Other material reveals that this is far from the limit of her versatility; delivered a capella, Silly Eye Colour Generalisations owes a debt to classic Broadway, whilst the single chord of That Time recalls the inherent simplicity of Jonathan Richman's Roadrunner.
Whilst her occasional dalliances with what passes for the avant garde may keep her Jools Holland cache writ large, it's still the business of delivering good old fashioned singer/songwriter goods which has likely drawn the majority of tonight's 3,000 punters. Predictably, they don't leave disappointed, with the MOR-tinged Us, Fidelity and finally the gorgeous, Sarah McLachlan-esque Samson all leaving 'em wishing they were still allowed lighters to stick in the air.
Inexplicably, some of the "Bonus" material appears to be additional tracks from the same gig, plus some otherwise disposable bits and bobs such as speeded up footage of the soundcheck. The final item does have an air of genuine poignancy though; cellist and long time collaborator Daniel Cho was to drown the following year whilst swimming in Lake Geneva, and his life and work are celebrated, as it's also remembered in the singer's own accompanying notes.
As a document, Live in London happily wears a number of hats; old fans will be pleased to get something with a hint of greatest hits about it, whilst new fans can access Regina Spektor from an accessible starting point. And happily for aficionados of all modern day concert recordings, gone are the days when you can hear a discombobulated voice in the background asking for a pint of Skol and a bag of pork scratchings.
Cast & Crew
Director : Adria Petty
Producer : N/A
Screenwriter : N/A
Starring : Regina Spektor