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Regina Spektor

May 8, 2010 Leave a comment

This past Monday, May 3, we went to see Regina Spektor in concert at the Saint James Opera House.

For those of you who don’t know Regina Spektor, she’s a singer/songwriter who plays mostly piano and a little guitar.  She was born in Russia, but moved to New York with her family at a fairly young age to pursue her music career.  She’s got a fun personality to most of her songs, but she has quite a range, being able to explore both the high side and the dark side or music.  She also uses her voice as an instrument more than most singers I know, going beyond words to really get her point across.

Before going to the concert, John and I stopped at Hell Pizza on Bond Street for All-You-Can-Eat Monday.  For $12, you get all you can eat pizza for two hours (and $8 beer pitchers to boot).  Not a buffet in the traditional American sense, you sit there and they bring pizzas around every 10-15 minutes and you pick what you want.  It’s best to get there early, because there’s no telling how quickly the pizzas will come out.  For us, we only got 2 slices in the first 45 minutes, but were attacked with nearly 5 or 6 in the next 15.  And it’s good pizza too.  (Where else can you find a pizza called “Mordor?”)

Hell's Pizza

John and I also played a little darts while we waited for pizza.  He’s the first person I’ve met that actually knows how to play darts, and he schooled me.  Our first game, No-Score Cricket, was very close, but he ended up pulling out the win in the end.  But he dominated me in the second game, 41, until a fluke near the end had him clenching the victory for only a few points.

Dartboard

We took off towards the Saint James Theatre, meeting Lena and getting in just in time for the opening band to start.  The band, Jupiter One, started out with just a lone Asian man playing violin and singing on the stage.  He had an absolutely beautiful voice and used his violin in really interesting ways.  Soon he brought out a cellist, and finally a drummer who played only the snare.  After a while the violinist switched to electric guitar and the beat picked up a bit.  They were a really fun band and had a pretty unique sound.  What impressed me more than anything else was the mesh of the personalities.  The violinist seemed nervous and focused on the music, not talking much.  The cellist sat in the back like a sentinel, looking almost like a samurai, unmoving.  And the drummer was extremely outgoing and talkative.  He told lots of jokes and seemed like he’d rather talk than play.

Jupiter One

There was a long intermission between Jupiter One and Regina, and people started to get impatient.Regina Spektor More than once a train clap was started to try and bring her out.  (This is when I realized that Kiwis are completely miserable at trying to get a train clap going.  It ended up dying in a half-hearted golf clap before it got anywhere.)

But despite the wait, when Regina finally did come out and starting singing, I got goosebumps.  As incredible as her voice is on CD, it’s even more amazing in person.  She managed to hit every note perfectly, meshing well with the piano at the same time.

Regina played piano by herself for a while, playing a few songs I had never heard before, along with Wallet, Ballad of a Politician, and Summer in the City. After that she moved to guitar for a few songs, including That Time. That really surprised me, because I didn’t even know she played guitar.

She moved back to piano, brought in Jupiter One as her backup band, and continued with the rest of her setlist, a lot more popular songs (Folding Chair, Better, Machine, and One More Time With Feeling to name a few).  Machine was one of my favorites, especially the way they used the lights to match the mood.  (The video below is from YouTube from a show in Paris, not the show I went to.)

She finally finished with On the Radio, one of my personal favorites.  She received a standing ovation, and of course came back out to perform her 3-song encore of Samson, Us, and her most popular song Fidelity.

This was the first concert in a while that seemed to pass by in an instant.  I sat amazed for most of the time, only pausing to take a photograph here and there.  I tried to take some videos, as well, but the video on my camera didn’t turn out at all.  (I know that DSLRs aren’t made for video, but I expected the video on such an amazing camera to be at least mediocre, but, at least with the conditions at the concert, I could probably have gotten better video (especially sound) out of a cellphone camera.)

Regina and Band

Still, the show was absolutely incredible and 100% worth the money.  If you ever have the chance to see Regina Spektor in concert, I suggest you take it.

Full Album: Regina Spektor @ St. James Opera House

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Penn State? Good Music? Since When?

April 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Man, I picked a bad time to go out of the country.

In the years that I’ve been there, Penn State’s music scene has been pretty terrible.  While we have some decently talented local musicians (with British Phil being the best local talent by far–check them out), bringing in larger bands has always been a weak point.  Freshman year, we brought in The Clarks, though that’s to be expected since we’re so close to Pittsburgh.  And last year, we had Amos Lee and Josh Ritter (one of the best concerts I’ve been to).

We Are Scientists, courtesy of OnwardState.com

This year, though, the Penn State music program has really amped up.  (Lena told me that they recently got a new director, but I haven’t looked into that info myself).  Last semester I saw The Fray for $20 and Jack’s Mannequin for $5.  And before I left for New Zealand, I was able to catch free shows of both We Are Scientists and Motion City Soundtrack.

Ok, I’m going to get lazy with the links.  There’s a lot of bands.

And since I’ve been gone, it’s picked up even more.  The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Ingrid Michaelson, Pete Francis (lead singer of Dispatch), and Los Campesinos have all played or are playing soon for free.  Less Than Jake headlined for the big Movin On spring music festival.  (To be fair, Movin On has always been impressive, with The White Tie Affair and Say Anything the past two years, and Ben Fold, Reel Big Fish, and other big names in the past.)  Even the other music festival (now called Last Stop), has Matt and Kim headlining this year.  The amount of great music is almost obnoxious.

XPoNential Music Festival-18

'The East Hundred' playing at the 2009 XPoNential Music Festival

Beyond Penn State and into the rest of the PA, Colin Hay, Hot Chip, Ben Folds, John Mayer, Ingrid Michaelson, David Grey, Freelance Whales, Yeasayer, Josh Ritter, Carolina Liar, Of Montreal…you get the picture…have/are all playing within a 3-hour drive of State College in the 5 months that I’m gone.  And there was almost literally nothing the entirety of last semester.  Owl City was a complete waste of time (we walked out).  Even The Mountain Goats, despite being my favorite band and having an amazing concert, had some not-so-pleasant memories to go along with the concert.

I will say, though, that I am not completely out of the loop here in Wellington.  I was able to see The Mountain Goats how they should be seen: from 6 feet away and in great company.  It was, by far, the best concert I’ve been to.  And coming up in early May, I have 4th-row tickets to see Regina Spektor.

And the end of July, I’m looking forward to the XPoNential Music Festival in Camden, NJ.  The lineup for this year has not been announced yet, but if it’s anything like last year, the $40 for 3 full days of music will be money well spent.

I realize I’ve thrown a lot at you in this post, especially if you’ve never heard of most of the bands.  If you take anything from it, I would recommend checking out your local music scene.  Any of the bands I’ve mentioned would be great to see in concert, and would usually be relatively inexpensive as well.

ps: My favorite bands are The Mountain Goats and The Format.  Both have pretty unique sounds (especially in the voices) that can be a bit difficult to listen to the first time.  If you can get around that, I guarantee it’s worth it.