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Regina Spektor

Crooner has achieved pop accessibility by enhancing the punch of her music without compromising her classical training.

With:
Band: Regina Spektor, Dan Cho, K Ishibashi, McKenzie Smith, Elizabeth Myers, Yoed Nir.

Making the quick leap from quirky introspection to savvy uniqueness, pianist-singer Regina Spektor has achieved pop accessibility by enhancing the punch of her music without compromising the twists culled from her classical training. Fearlessly, and quite successfully, Spektor front-loaded her 95-minute show Tuesday with the knottier numbers that open “Far,” her fourth album for Warner Music Group’s Sire label, saving the more tuneful and familiar songs for scattering later on.

Moscow-born, Bronx-raised and trained in New York’s diary-opening folk movement, Spektor draws on colors learned in school, whether it be the classically imbued  (“Genius Next Door”) or the playful tunes concocted with schoolmates after class (“Dance Anthem of the ’80s,” “Folding Chair”). She is playing by an old set of rules, the ones created for the Laura Nyros, Carla Kings and Karla Bonoffs: The lyrics need to compel, the melodies need to shift with grace, and the vocals require a consistent upholding of a persona.

Spektor, whose vocal flexibility is never overused, is an innocent coming to grips with occasional darkness, observing  strangers and friends and alternating between fear, concern and contentment.

“That Time,” with a litany of observations about reading Shakespeare and cereal boxes, tangerines and kissing, stands out for its quaintness among the new songs, a bit of a fun and chipper break; the observational, she has learned, can include the mysterious as well, evidenced by “Genius Next Door,” one of the more cerebrally compelling tunes of the night.

The piano has always posed a conundrum for potential pop music stars: to sit and play the songs without humor, stories or a stage show does not often make for a compelling concert attraction. Norah Jones, for example, took up strumming an acoustic guitar; Alicia Keys spent her last tour attempting to dance. Traditionally, men are afforded more breaks on the instrument than women, and Spektor’s employment of  masculine traits in her compositional style — the minor keys, the lack of reliance on feel-good song structures or insistent beats, wordless passages of eee’s, la’s and oo-we’s — distinguish her from a pack of song-belters and emotional wordsmiths.

Spektor stepped away from the piano only for two songs on the guitar — one humorously recounts hearing the neighbors’ sexual activity while playing one of her songs — and to move to an electric keyboard. Otherwise she remained behind the baby grand, fronting a group of two cellos, violin, viola and drums that came and went, leaving her onstage solo for a healthy chunk of time.

She was able to connect with the audience for the entire evening. the crowd was hushed except for a clap-along and only a couple of sing-alongs (“Folding Chair” was a charmer); a blissfully clear sound system made a strong performance an ever stronger presentation.

“Far” opened at No. 3 on the Nielsen SoundScan album sales chart, a rare top 10 debut for a singer-songwriter with a career less than a decade old. “Us,” one of her two songs in the film “500 Days of Summer,” received a healthy ovation; whether it’s better known for its 5-year-old video or its presence in the pic is anyone’s guess.

Spektor will return to Los Angeles to perform at the Greek Theater on Oct. 28.

Regina Spektor

El Rey Theater; 770 capacity; $30

Production: Presented by Goldenvoice. Reviewed July 28, 2009.

Cast: Band: Regina Spektor, Dan Cho, K Ishibashi, McKenzie Smith, Elizabeth Myers, Yoed Nir.

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