by Hayley Burrell
I was locked in a windowless budget hotel room when the news of Trump’s presidential victory broke.
I had arrived in Newcastle a day early to work on an imminent essay and still see the mistress of my musical soul for the past decade, Russian-born New Yorker Regina Spektor at The Sage.
Perhaps it was the lock-down mode I was in and only seeing snippets of shock and outrage on Facebook, but it felt like one of those elaborate internet celebrity death hoaxes. When I headed across the Millennium Bridge into Gateshead for the gig (as this was the furthest north Ms Spektor was heading with her UK tour) encroached in darkness, nothing in the world seemed like it had really changed.
Even when Regina came out and thanked us for joining her on this ‘f**ked up day’, it still felt like a joke. But shortly into her new song ‘Bleeding Heart’ from her new album ‘Remember Us to Life’ , Ms Spektor’s voice quivered and before long she broke down into a tsunami of tears, feeling the full effect of Trump’s hate-filled, fear-mongering manifesto.
An invisible ripple of heart-felt sympathy swept through the room in stunned utterances but after a few seconds, shouts of love and encouragement came from the audience. Regina bravely gathered herself together to offer up an intensely moving speech about how even under Stalin’s dictatorship, there was and always will be love among the people.
It was obvious that the next 90 minutes were a struggle to get through as there were a few-false starts and needing the audience’s help to remember lyrics from her 2006 album ‘Begin to Hope’. But we stuck by our Reggie, appreciating that under the circumstances, after almost 10 years of solid shows, this was not like her.
Apart from the obvious ‘Ballad of a Politician’ from 2012 album What We Saw From the Cheap Seats, the remainder of her set list had an underlying political tone. In the context of song ‘Blue Lips’ (from her 2009 album ‘Far’) she shared an anecdote about a recent performance where she had met two astronauts who explained the feeling of the overview effect (a shift in awareness astronauts have reported when looking at earth from space) in the sense that we are all equal.
Ms Spektor continued to play other songs from Begin to Hope, ‘Better’; ‘On the Radio’; ‘Samson’ and the song which makes me want to dig my nails into the person next to me with overwhelming awe and sign up for a Rosetta Stone package to learn Russian – ‘Apres Moi’.
She finished with her Soviet Kitsch hit, ‘Us’ and after a pro-longed encore break, whether to build anticipation or gather herself is unknown, she re-emerged ready to go into full swing with ‘Hotel Song’.
Usually I am too self-conscious to be one of the first to give a standing ovation but after an immensely difficult show to get through and without any Justin Bieber-like walk-offs, this experience merited it and others quickly others followed suit until a full house were on their feet.
I first saw Regina in 2007 at Glasgow’s QMU wearing a red Borat t-shirt and a deer-in-the-headlights look of overwhelming modesty at the applause. Nine years later, with all the glamour of a concert pianist, she wore an expression of appreciated gratitude at her army of supporters.
I turned to the girl next to me who I had sold my partner’s ticket to on Facebook, joined in whoops, whistles and applause, bound in a truly irreplaceable moment for this incredible songstress.