TVD Live Shots: Regina Spektor with Aimee Mann at Wolf Trap, 8/3

PHOTOS: RACHEL LANGE | Wolf Trap, the National Park-run concert space in the Virginia woods, has a big enough stage to accommodate full symphony orchestras and ballet productions. Touring rock bands typically fill it with equipment and lights.

So it is a bit surprising to see Regina Spektor solo at a grand piano and otherwise empty stage captivate an audience in a way bigger productions often don’t. As playful and surprising with her voice as she is with her precise, ringing piano playing, she was one compelling performer with a rack of disarming songs happy to take their own unique lyric turns.

She began with even less than a piano, standing to sing “Ain’t No Cover” a cappella with a drum pattern beat out by a spare pinky on the same microphone. Only then did she sit at the suitably grand instrument for her beguiling show.

Spektor said at times she was rattled by the sheer beauty of the venue; she cracked that she’d be more comfortable in a dark, divey club. She seems far from those days, though. And her silvery many tiered gown would have been out of place. At Wolf Trap, it looked a little weird at first too, but as the show went on it was easy to see how well it reflected the changing colored lights above her—she was a one woman light show too.

At the piano she began with her grand, complainy seasonal song “Summer in the City” (“Cleavage! Cleavage! Cleavage!”) and followed it with a summer out look that was “less of a bummer, “Folding Chair.” She pounded tunes that had bits of gospel in them, like “Becoming All Alone,” from her latest collection “Home, Before and After”; or played like clever, brash show tunes, like “Baby Jesus.” Even songs that began like straight pop love songs, like “How” but had room for left turns.

Playing completely solo gave her a lot of freedom; her guitar was on hand in case she wanted to do one of those numbers (she didn’t). It was easy to get everyone to clap along to her nominal hit “Better.” She grabbed a drumstick to whack a wooden chair for the percussion of “Poor Little Rich Boys” (with a coda lifted from Patti Smith’s version of “My Generation”). Whatever she’d do the crowd was happy to hear. “I get applause for trying to adjust my bench,” she declared at one point. “I love it!”

And in the quietest moments, there was something people rarely heard at a well-attended Wolf Trap show—the crickets or pond frogs making noises in the nearby woods, or a truck rumbling by on Route 267. It was that quiet.

Spektor didn’t make a big deal of playing “Ballad of a Politician” so near the seat of the nation’s power. Born in Moscow and having moved to the states with her parents at age nine, she paused to acknowledge the Russian invasion of Ukraine once, dedicating her performance of “Après Moi,” a song about uprisings, to the catastrophe and mentioned a T shirt sale whose profits would go to Ukraine relief. That song was from her most popular album, the 2006 Begin to Hope that also included a late show favorite “On the Radio,” played right after the splendid “Us” from her first release “Soviet Kitsch.”

Spektor retains a certain girlishness at 43; she seemingly blushes at the ovation she receives at each song and has a nervous habit screwing open and shutting the water bottles nearby. But her songs are tough and surprising and made a crowd on a somewhat rainy and chilly night stay until the end.

It was a solid double bill of talent, though, with Aimee Mann opening. Fronting a four-piece band, she seemed surprised that anybody knew who she was, though many fans came to hear her comparatively more dour songs that were nonetheless thoughtful and well-performed. Her summer song was a negative one as well: “Lies of Summer” began her modest 12-song set. There’s a tuneful melancholy in which she languishes. Which may have made her the right person to write songs for a musical based on Girl, Interrupted. Still, its results, in a song called “Suicide is Murder,” were measured and effective as the hit from Magnolia that allowed, “Save Me.”

Mann has been co-writing lately with Jonathan Coulton, who is also traveling with her to step on and play guitar and barely discernible harmonies to a couple of them, “Patient Zero” and “Rollercoasters,” and then disappear again backstage. She loosened up enough by the end to take some leaping kicks to end the last couple of songs, rock show style. The venue seemed to demand it, even if her low-key set did not.


Ain’t No Cover
Summer in the City
Folding Chair
Becoming All Alone
Baby Jesus
What Might Have Been
My Man
Poor Little Rich Boy
Ballad of a Politician
Apres Moi
Two Birds
Spacetime Fairytale
On the Radio
One More Time With Feeling

Lies of Summer
You Fall
You Never Loved Me
Patient Zero
The Moth
Burn It Out
Little Bombs
Suicide is Murder
Save Me
I Can’t Help You Anymore
King of the Jailhouse

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