Regina Spektor, Hammersmith Apollo, London

The queen of kook conquers all
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The Independent Culture

It's rare that a woman with a piano can command the attentions of the old, the young, the hip and the square alike, but fans of all varieties were rapt from the very first tinkling of the ivories at Regina Spektor's gig.

The New York anti-folkstress' inimitable brand of sassy plonky-tonk and quotidian drama strikes the perfect balance between knowing irony and a good old sing-along. They're the kind of songs that everyone imagines featuring on the soundtrack of their own personal biopic, encompassing everything from plaintive first love, via domestic kerfuffles, to keening modern tragedy.

Most tracks were from her album Far, released earlier this year, although standards like "Fidelity" and "On the Radio" were also on the menu, teasingly drawn out during a charged encore. It goes to show the old-fashioned power of a good tune and gnomic lyrics.

Recent outings include an appearance on the soundtrack of hit indie romance flick (500) Days of Summer, the nu-twee sensibilities of which seem to chime exactly with Spektor's and those of her fanbase. She is quirky without being threatening, and universally referential to the point of validating every listener's internalised emotional rollercoaster. Her innate winsomeness lies in an ability to fuse heart-swelling melodies and strong but idiosyncratic vocals with thoughtful lyrics that, although provocative and intelligent, remain accessibly witty and ubiquitous. A musical-theatre quality abides in some of Spektor's most soaring choruses and nursery rhyme-style simplicity, but any notions of triteness are dispelled by her self-styled spikiness. There's also plenty of "oohing" that even the laziest of part-time followers can join in with.

Spektor was at her strongest during the first segment of her set, in which she was accompanied by a string quartet and drums. She remains, first and foremost, a distinctive and talented musician, with an unshakable voice and keen ear , which was tested several times when she paused to retune her baby grand. Things sounded identical pre- and post-tuning to this untrained ear, but she is nothing if not a perfectionist. One giggling slip-up during her monolithic hit "Samson" caused her to start again, but it seemed oddly contrived.

It was a brief glimpse of Spektor's personality, so readily available through her songs but so sparsely presented on-stage. There was a tension in the crowd, like an elastic band pulled taut, that she never managed to expend. There was minimal conversation, multiple "thank yous" but little interaction. The brave few that attempted to dance soon gave it up when they received little encouragement. She rattled through her set like a true proficient, but she didn't pay her crowd much attention. A quibble given the faultlessness of her playing and the undiminished devotion among those in attendance, but an important factor in a live show, nevertheless.

Still, Regina Spektor rules supreme. Often compared to the likes of Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple and (God help us) Lisa Loeb, she has avoided the self- indulgence, aggression or, at worse, worthiness that the sight of a lone woman at a keyboard or with a guitar often connotes by keeping things light without being superficial. A cynic might point out that the fact she looks a bit like Betty Boop has probably helped no end, too.