We often speak of balance in concerts. Does the artist allow the tempo to arc and ebb to keep our attention? Does the setlist balance old and new songs? Did they get the mix just right? However, last night at Nashville’s famed Ryman Auditorium, singer/songwriter Regina Spektor held the room in a trance thanks to her art of balancing the many personalities that make up this unique artist. On one hand, the indie-rock-pop stalwart kept the room in awe of her virtuosic piano playing, her songwriting wit that frequently surpasses the listener’s ability to keep up, her regal stage presence that commands your attention, and a pool of creativity that never seems to run dry. On the other side, the Ryman crowd could easily connect with her sheer joy at returning to regular touring, her need to put parenting time over rehearsal time, the willingness to acknowledge a few too-adoring fans that felt the need to shout out things between songs, and her very, very sparkly dress which she said she wore for this special occasion.
Like the artist, Ryman Auditorium shares many personalities. Come to it five shows in a row and you’ll likely see five different things: one night a rock star, another an Opry legend, the next a comedian. It’s not that many weeks ago we watched a southern rock show in those storied halls that was so raucous the floors literally shook the entire night. Last night, with Spektor, it was an evening to sit close with a couple thousand fellow fans and savor the performer’s spirit.
Much of the show was purposefully minimal—just Spektor’s own piano or keyboard playing to accompany her. In fact, show opener “Ain’t No Cover” was as minimal as you can get—acapella—with a Spektor tapping out a slight rhythm on the microphone. She instantly had everyone’s focus as only a few words into the song, you could hear a pin drop in the cavernous venue. Moving to a grand piano, Spektor wove through a group of songs that included “Becoming All Alone” and “Loveology” from her latest album, Home, Before and After, as well as older works like “Folding Chair,” and the crowd-favorite, “Baby Jesus.” Here, the storytelling side of Spektor shined bright. Moving to a keyboard, we next got the back-to-back of “Poor Little Rich Boy” and “Ballad of a Politician,” two songs that are particularly good at showcasing Spektor’s knack for weaving commentary into her lyrics. Proving that she does not have to be confined to playing the keys, Spektor later took to guitar for fierce versions of “Bobbing For Apples” and “That Time.” Spektor used the time on guitar well, proving that she would be equally comfortable making any form of pop–perhaps even rock–music.
While the crowd watched with eager anticipation and hung on each sung word, the biggest thrills were saved for the end of the night. First up was a surprise guest. Living up to the saying that you never know what might happen at The Ryman, the audience roared as Spektor introduced her friend, Ben Folds. With Folds taking over on piano, the duo revisited the song they shared on the Hamilton Mixtape, “Dear Theodosia.” It was an interesting contrast to hear Spektor working with a fellow artist versus the rest of the set’s solo performances. She transitioned into the duet so well that it just felt natural—not a forced moment just for the sake of having a guest appearance. The pair could have sang together for hours and not one person would have objected.
Following the quick sit-in by Folds, Spektor returned to the keys to run through a string of hits including “On The Radio,” “Fidelity,” and for an encore, “Samson.” For these last songs, Spektor seemed to draw from a fresh well of vocal and stage energy to give her fans memorable versions of her most popular tracks.
And just like that, twenty-two songs later, Regina Spektor’s night at Ryman Auditorium was at a close. By the cheers and shouts for a second encore, you could tell it had ended much too soon for the room packed with Spektor’s faithful. Upon reflection it was a night of balance in multiple ways. We saw many sides of Spektor that you may not fully appreciate by just listening to her records. Additionally, we were given a perfectly balanced evening of music: a flowing setlist that held our attention, an exploration in songwriting to challenge our minds, and enough surprises and special moments to keep us on our toes.