Regina Spektor performed last night at the Southbank Centre. She wore a billowing black blouse and incredibly red shoes. She sang songs about orca whales and dark-hearted politicians. Picket fences and horns hidden beneath fedoras. Her voice–always playful, often operatic–echoed this night with deeper sadness and necessity. It rose and cracked and went on standing. Occasionally, it slipped into Russian. That’s a thing she can do, having growing up in the Soviet Union.
“Real life,” she had said, when she first sat at the piano.
“Real life. Sort of.”
She mentioned, more than once, feelings of depression, of greyness, of finding it hard to play. At times, it appeared she might cry during a song. I think, perhaps, she might have. I certainly did. Only once, did she speak at length about the election. Taking a break halfway through the show, she talked about being on tour these past couple months. About being away and the dislocated feeling of returning to a home that no longer felt like home. Searching for ways to go on. Love and friends and art. It didn’t seem like enough to travel with.
But this is what she had.
And this is what she gave us.
She went back to playing. And the three songs she played next tore my heart out and held it up and said look. See? Here it is. Here is where it always is.
Everything she couldn’t bring herself to say. Everything that brought her nearly to tears before and after and during each song she performed this night poured out of her. Her voice made a sound I’m not sure I’ve heard before.
Here are the names of two of the songs she played.
And a few of the lyrics from each.
“Ballad of the Politician”
A man inside a room is shaking hands with other men
This is how it happens
Our world under command
Shake it, shake it baby
Shake your ass out in that street
You’re gonna make us scream someday
You’re gonna make us weak
But I am
But I am
But I am not a number, not a name
Be afraid of the lame
They’ll inherit your legs
Be afraid of the old
They’ll inherit your souls
Be afraid of the cold
They’ll inherit your blood
Apres moi, le deluge
After me comes the flood
I must go on standing
You can’t break that which isn’t yours
I, oh, must go on standing
I’m not my own, it’s not my choice
After the show, she received, as she deserved, a standing ovation that lasted for quite some time. I looked around at everyone. And everyone looked around at everyone else. Taking it all in. All of us standing, our faces lit as much by the darkness as by the light.
I told EG, later on at home, that I had never seen anything quite like it. I joked that, perhaps, this is what shows were like in Germany in the 20s, before the flood.
Haha, I said. Hah. Um.
Here we are, readers. If you hear someone singing a song near you, listen. They might have the words you need.