"This bed is on fire with passionate love..." Aftermath has always loved James' "Laid." It's one of our absolute favorite '90s songs, and there couldn't be a better one to preface Regina Spektor's impending appearance at Verizon. The crowd is young, mixed (but mostly white), well-to-do, filling up the floor of the theater save a few scattered empty seats in the back where we're camped out. It's obviously date night. We see a few girls' night out parties, but mostly it's couple city. We may be the only single man in the room. They think they're so pretty. A lot of them are, and they're probably getting laid later on. Most of them. Aftermath has heard Regina Spektor's music (a little), we know she's talented (more than a little), but honestly, we're here mostly because it's something to do. And because this ever-hungry blog needs content, and because reviews are a quick and easy way to do that. Well, maybe not always quick. Or easy. We wonder who these people are around us - what their jobs are, what kind of cars they drive, where they eat and drink, how they got their tickets. We're in the block of seats where somebody obviously knows somebody. Even though we're a reporter, or can be, we don't especially care to ask them. They're having fun; we're working. That line just won't be crossed, no matter what. She's on.
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Clad in all black, accompanied by a violinist, cellist and drummer, Spektor sits down and begins a sprightly little tune that's the history of New York City music in reverse - the Bowery grit of Patti Smith's CBGB punk, kicked uptown toward the Brill Building and Broadway until it ends up on Carole King's doorstep. It's good; she's drawn us in. The second song is more classical, with a solo introduction. Spektor's high, clear soprano could tackle light opera with ease, singing about "forgetting the words to your favorite song." We don't know any of the words ourselves, but she reminds us of a female Jeff Tweedy. Jeff Tweedy would sing about forgetting the words to his favorite song. Her music is playful, but metronomic and disciplined. The next song could almost be a Chopin etude, save the lyrics about a silly clown. She's funny, too. More matter-of-fact than apologetic, she tells the crowd she wrote the next one, "Ode to Divorce," "a long time ago." A lot of us laugh at the refrain, "Won't you help a brother out?"
But it's the next two songs, which turn out to be from Spektor's new album Far, that really grab us. "Machine" blends '30s Kurt Weill Berlin cabaret with the James Bond composer John Barry's espionage intrigue. Then, in the brief amount of time it takes Spektor and friends to play "Laughing With," we fall in love. "No one laughs at God in a hospital... no one laughs at God in a war." The last line, repeated several times, is "We're all laughing with God." She's smart, and we are captivated. Spektor isn't quite pop. Her music is catchy and smiley and charming, to be sure, but both too sardonic and sincere to matter with the people - the many, many people - who prefer music as an anesthetic rather than a guidepost. It's engaging in both the connubial and confrontational senses of that word. Enough that right here, 35 minutes in, in the middle of Far's "Blue Lips," Aftermath stopped taking notes, put our pen in our pocket and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the evening.