Regina Spektor vocalizes heartache, and not just of the girl-loses-boy kind. Last night, at the taping of a session for KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic show, the postmodern Edith Piaf sang about death, loss, the streets of New York, museum paintings, and Paris in the rain in her inimitable throb, before a select crowd of 200, including Spiderman (Andrew Garfield). After the nine-song set, she discussed with KCRW music director Anne Litt the deep roots of her bittersweet songs. Twenty-three years ago Spektor emigrated to New York from the Soviet Union with her family.
“You’re a rarity,” she said of her constant awareness of her Russian Jewish roots. “You get to live. You never know when they’re going to pogrom you.”
Spektor seemed safe but hot and nervous in the packed swelter of Apogee’s Berkeley Street studio in Santa Monica. “This is a new genre; it’s intimate with strangers,” she joked. She sipped water obsessively in between gorgeous takes of songs including “Firewood” and “Ode to Divorce.” The session, which will air Sept. 25, took place on the eve of KCRW’s summer pledge drive.
The singer/songwriter talked about her decades of classical piano lessons with a fellow East European immigrant her father befriended on the subway. She demonstrated the considerable depth of her talent, the kind of longterm legs we associate with jazz singers, not indie-rock songstresses. Spektor sings with the clear tone and sure rhythmic footing of an Ella Fitzgerald, and vulnerability of Billie Holiday. She flirts with beat-boxing and could probably do a mean scat. And she has a talent for pregnant analogies: “You’re like a big parade through town/ You leave a mess but you’re so fun,” she sang in “The Party.” It took her two takes to get that song right, but right she got it.