BREVIEW: Regina Spektor @ Symphony Hall 05.08.17

Regina Spektor @ Symphony Hall 05.08.17 / Michelle Martin – taken for Express & Star

Words by Paul Gallear / Lead pic by Michelle Martin – taken for Express & Star

A man, younger than I am but around the same height, is wondering around the streets of Sheffield, slightly lost. He has recently started university and is still unfamiliar with his surroundings.

Shuffling through the snow, he passes The Leadmill – a long-established music venue in the city. ‘TONIGHT: REGINA SPEKTOR’ proclaims the poster by the door. Amazed at his luck he calls around all of his newly-made university friends, trying to find someone to go to the gig with. Either no one is available or they are unwilling to take a risk on a last-minute invitation to an unknown gig. Undeterred, the young man queues that evening in the chilly northern air to try and get a ticket on the door. His luck is in.

It was 20.02.07 and that was the first time I saw Regina Spektor live, touring her 2006 album – Begin to Hope. Ten-and-a-half years later I again had the chance to see her in concert, this time touring her seventh studio release – Remember Us to Life. Nothing would be left to chance this time; I had signed up to the mailing lists and was ready with my unique verification code when the pre-sale opened at 9am.

I managed to secure prime seats a mere six rows back (not too close, not too far) and just off-centre in Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, a larger and more prestigious venue than The Leadmill. Hosting the likes of Marina Medvetskaya’s Saint Petersburg Classic Ballet and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Symphony Hall claims to be ‘widely considered one of the finest concert halls in the world’ and their website lists an impressive set of acoustic specifications (all of the venues on Regina Spektor’s six date UK tour are more up-market than they were a decade ago). Sporting my by now vintage Soviet Kitsch album T-shirt from the Sheffield gig, I survey the stage: a black Steinway & Sons grand piano, a monikered drum kit, a cello, a guitar, and a keyboard. Can that be the same piano stool as last time? Am I dreaming? Musicians can be creatures of habit.

Despite this being a show without support and having a tightly-scheduled start and finish time, Regina Spektor takes to the stage half-an-hour late. The room is not quite sold out, but the anticipation has built and Spektor enters stage right to rapturous applause and cheers. She and the band burst into ‘The Calculation’.

Full disclosure. Some of the tracks from Regina Spektor’s latest album haven’t struck a great chord with me; it is the album I have listened to least frequently. The opening half of tonight’s set is, as you’d expect, laden with these new tracks (such as ‘Grand Hotel’, ‘Tornadoland’ and ‘The Light’) which are performed to an enthusiastic audience. I even find myself enjoying these songs live in a way I hadn’t enjoyed recorded. But during these early numbers I pick up on a buzzing sound which is surprising from a venue that boasts about its acoustics – I would have expected perfection.

The set is diverse. Regina Spektor is of course always present, but she is either backed by the entire band whilst she plays piano and sings, or abandons the piano and sings more like a pop star with a backing band. Her playing has few audible mistakes and the cello playing is, I’m reliably informed, very good. For other tracks, such as ‘That Time’, she abandons the piano all together and picks up the guitar. But for me some of the best and most successful tracks are when the band leaves and Spektor plays such song as ‘Après Moi’ unaccompanied (how many songs can you name which feature three different languages?).

The quiet nature of the audience between songs is not something I’m used to (being a frequenter of more rock-orientated concerts) but Regina Spektor manages to hold the atmosphere. That’s not to say that she is entirely silent in these short gaps. “Do you have a train to catch?” she sasses when an audience member calls for ‘Samson’, a track which would be played (inevitably) as part of the encore.

There is even an endearing moment of humour at the beginning of ‘Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)’ a favourite track of mine from  Begin to Hope, when Spektor forgets her own lyrics; cue a great moment of audience interaction as she calls out for prompts. But I do get the feeling that a lot of these songs have stories behind them that I would have loved Regina Spektor to have gone into, giving us a little insight into her life and writing process.

Nor does she forget where she is; giving a nod to the Birmingham audience by mentioning that local boy Jeff Lynne (of E.L.O fame) had been a producer on her album Far, Spektor bursts in ‘Folding Chair’ – a bouncy crowd-pleaser.

As I mentioned, Regina Spektor ends her encore with perhaps her most famous and most enduring song, ‘Samson’ (after ‘Us’ that is, which was performed with aplomb just before exiting the stage for the first time). I’m not a fan of the trite modern assumption that artists will play always an encore at the end of the set, but nothing could have pleased me more than to have seen Spektor’s ruby-red shoes patter across the stage once more to retake their place on the piano’s sustain pedal. The audience are on their feet at the end of the show and it is thoroughly deserved.

Adding a band to her live shows, Regina Spektor has developed a more complex and mature sound in the last decade. But I can’t help wonder if something of the arty rawness and fun of her earlier performances might have been lost along the way. Spektor has come a long way since emerging from the anti-folk scene in downtown New York’s East Village, and she does concentrate on her work from the previous three albums rather than delving into her archives.

Back in Sheffield we stood in awe as Regina Spektor, bandless, thwacked out a rhythm on her piano stool using a drumstick; in Birmingham we sit as she and her band play through a largely flawless set. Though I don’t leave disappointed, I am greedy. I would like a second show, more stripped back without a band and with a smaller audience, during which she could reconnect with her roots. A boy can dream.

Thoroughly satisfied that my high expectations have been met, I leave the venue clutching a new t-shirt. Hopefully I won’t have to wait another decade to wear it to one of her concerts.

For more on Regina Spektor, visit

For more from the Town and Symphony Halls, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit

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BPREVIEW: Regina Spektor @ Symphony Hall 05.08.17

BPREVIEW: Regina Spektor @ Symphony Hall 05.08.17

Words by Ed King

On Saturday 5th August, Regina Spektor comes to the Symphony Hall – performing in Birmingham as part of a six UK tour dates.

Doors at the Symphony Hall open at 7pm, with tickets priced between £30.50 and £38 as presented by SJM Concerts/Gigs & Tours. For direct gig info, including venue details and online tickets sales, click here.

So at the beginning of the week you’re making jokes about holding your heart for a Jewish redhead who can play the piano…

Born into a musical family, both performers and professors, Regina Spektor began playing piano as a young child growing up in Moscow. After her family left the USSR, as it was back in the late 80s’ perestroika, Regina Spektor eventually settled in the Bronx and began performing around the clubs and cafés of downtown New York. Piano based storytelling is perhaps one way to describe Spektor‘s style; socio-political and self analytical narratives, delivered over strong melodies with ivory at their heart is another. The classical training is there, the Jazz influences were there, and watching Regina Spektor’s finger work is like a master class in appropriate pressure. But there’s fun, self deprecation, the occasional horror story and above all honesty. So it’s a win.

After a few years grafting through the suitcase sales and self promotion of a truly DIY artist, Regina Spektor signed to the Warner’s subsidiary, Sire Records, to release Soviet Kitsch in 2004. But it would be the flurry of singles from her 2006 LP, Begin to Hope, that would start attracting the more mainstream success – although the album tracks such as ‘Samson’ and ‘Après Moi’ would be picked up and performed by Gwen Stefani and Peter Gabriel respectively.

The production partnership on Begin to Hope, with David Khane, would carry onto Spektor’s third album for Sire Records – releasing Far in 2009, with (…wait for it) Jeff Lynne also sitting in behind the glass (BOOM, a regional connection… Trinity Mirror’s click bait merchants would be proud). But Far would also deliver arguably some of Spektor’s most memorable songs, with the singles ‘The Calculation’ and ‘Eet’ backed up, even beaten, by the delicious ‘Folding Chair’ and personally pertinent ‘Laughing With’.

Two albums and eight years later, Regina Spektor is back globetrotting to promoter her latest LP Remember Us to Life – released in 2016 on Sire Records, the label Spektor has stuck to since first signing to them in 2004. The debut single from Spektor’s seventh studio album was ‘Bleeding Heart’, let loose into the world in July last year.

An official ‘Steinway Artist’, endorsed by the piano manufactures in 2012 (although having played on/preferred Steinway pianos throughout her career), Regina Spektor at the Symphony Hall is a promising marriage of artist and venue. It also gives me allows me to come up with a suitable pun for the one Sire Records album I haven’t mentioned yet.

Until then I’m going to make jokes about Donald Trump and Stan Kroenke being sat on by an escaped rhino… lets see if this universe stuff really works.

‘Bleeding Heart’ – Regina Spektor (from Remember Us to Life – look out for 3mins 46sec)


‘Samson’ – Regina Spektor (from Begin to Hope)

Regina Spektor comes to the Symphony Hall on Saturday 5th August, as presented by SJM Concerts/Gigs & Tours. For direct gig info, including venue details and online tickets sales, click here.

For more on Regina Spektor, visit

For more from the Town and Symphony Halls, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit

For more from SJM Concerts/Gigs & Tours, visit

BREVIEW: An Evening with Jackson Browne @ Symphony Hall 27.06.17

BREVIEW: An Evening with Jackson Browne @ Symphony Hall 27.06.17 / Aatish Ramchurn

Words by Ed King / Live pics by Aatish Ramchurn

I’m standing on a corner in Selly Park, Birmingham, waiting to go and see Jackson Browne; it’s a grey English Tuesday, I’m late and my hair is too long for the humidity. Some problems are obvious and fickle. But with a portfolio stretching back to the front lines of the 60’s what to expect on stage (and off) tonight is a little less clear; the Symphony Hall has billed this gig as ‘An Evening with…’ but that might not be long enough.

Known for a string of household hits he wrote for other artists, then propelling himself into the spotlight with his eponymous debut LP in 1972, Jackson Browne was a golden boy of his time. Combining celebrity status with talent (something that’s not a given in the music industry), sex appeal, five albums in five years, and an ability to write songs of equal beauty about love, loss and foreign policy, Jackson Browne carved himself a unique place into the American songbook.

There’s some pretty sterling peer reviews too, with Bruce Springsteen declaring that “in 70’s post Vietnam America, there was no album that captured the fall from Eden, the long slow after burn of the 60’s – its heartbreak, it’s disappointments, its spent possibilities, better than Jackson’s masterpiece Late for the Sky” as he inducted Browne into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. And that from the man who wrote ‘The River’.

But to me Jackson Browne’s seminal album was Lives in the Balance – which combined his almost Faustian songwriting (…a dark red signature somewhere wouldn’t totally surprise me) with a proud dig at America’s ‘friends’ and the ‘Governments killing their own’ that we still rally against today. Some problems are obvious and yet never go away. But at 50quid a pop I’m not sure how many people will be sitting left of centre at the Symphony Hall tonight – despite the four story auditorium being virtually sold out before we published our BPREVIEW.

After some rushing around with a ticket in my mouth looking for gates and doors (think last call for a long haul flight) I land at Seat 16 / Row N – as central as I could have hoped to be; the lead mic stand is about 30metres directly in front of me. As soon BREVIEW: An Evening with Jackson Browne @ Symphony Hall 27.06.17 / Aatish Ramchurnas I sit down Jackson Browne walks onto the Symphony Hall stage with the casual confidence of a teenager who’s learnt to live forever, moving straight into ‘Just Say Yeah’ and launching ‘An Evening…’ with a track from his penultimate LP, Time the Conqueror – the first release via Browne’s own imprint, Inside Recordings.

The sound is immediate and impressive, with a tight band who clearly work well together fronting a man whose vocals sound as near to the record as you could expect them to be. Mind you, when you’ve been performing for half a century this is either patronising or a moot point. Or arguably should be.

‘The Long Way Round’ is up next, from Browne’s most recent album Standing in the Breach; even messing up the first verse doesn’t faze the front man, as we “…just start over” and laugh our way through the mishap. I hear more ‘whoops’ and ad hoc cat calls than I have from any Birmingham audience in a while. A solo piano introduces the next song – ‘After the Deluge’, the closing track from The Boss lauded LP – and starts a trend of sporadic stand up ovations that would continue throughout the night.

Somewhat downplaying his own political portfolio, Jackson Browne introduces the often “unrecognized… scathing satire” of Randy Newman next, with a cover of ‘A Piece of the Pie’ – the Harps & Angels album track that cites Browne as the chorus’ punchline. Worth noting here that Greg Leisz plays lap guitar in Jackson Browne’s touring band, who is excellent throughout.

We leave the acerbic dissonance of Newman’s two fingers to the American dream and head “back to my songs… like falling off a log” with the title track from Browne’s 1993 LP, I’m Alive, before returning to the source (kinda, sorta) with the title track of his sophomore LP, For Everyman. It is at this point I notice some of the Symphony Hall audience who are holding their hands in the air, pointing to the ceiling and giving the occasional fist pump of solidarity; a nasty side of me can’t help but laugh at the ironic and ‘strangled cries of lawyers in love’, celebrating an ideology they are paid well to forget. Integrity’s not a pastime and altruism’s a bitch. But judgment’s pretty shitty too and I’m not proud of these thoughts.

A superb drum roll denouement highlights the tight proficiency of the touring ensemble on stage, before bringing us another call to arms with ‘Walls and Doors’, again from Browne’s latest LP –  “a song that would be good for your country to hear right now”. Written by the nueva trova singer/songwriter Carlos Varela, the poignant pen from America’s island neighbor couldn’t be more pertinent – as Browne’s homeland continues to ostracise the “collective joy” of Cuba whilst our own gets dangerously close to doing the same with mainland Europe. A shout out request brings Browne back to the ivory to perform ‘For a Dancer’, which breaks me in two, before a foot stomping delivery of ‘Doctor My Eyes’ takes us into the interval. I pick through the somewhat sauntering Symphony Hall crowd, looking for the quickest route to rum and then back to my seat.

BREVIEW: An Evening with Jackson Browne @ Symphony Hall 27.06.17 / Aatish RamchurnThe second set opens with ‘The Late Show’, alongside an almost offensive volley of requests from the post interval drink audience. It seems ‘For a Dancer’ set a dangerous precedent; dance boy dance… it’s a little rude. Although one shout out mercifully (selfishly) makes is down from the balcony and onto the stage; Browne tunes a steel guitar with Latin flavour as the unmistakable message of ‘Lives in the Balance’ comes triumphant off stage, complete with an extra verse citing 9-11 sang beautifully by Althea Mills. My turn to stand up and clap.

Another cover (and homage) brings Warren Zevron’s ‘Caramlita’ rolling round the Symphony Hall, as shoulders across the ‘world renowned’ auditorium twitch with memory, condemnation or ignorant bliss. How appropriate. Now we’re heading into the halfway point of a two set performance, something not many artists can hold up, and I write ‘if he plays ‘Late for the Sky’ this could be the last of my perfect evenings’ whilst Browne pays tribute to his friend and lover, Valerie Carter, though ‘That Girl Could Sing’ – from his 1980 LP, Hold Out.

So guess what comes up next… I put my notebook and pen on the floor.

The rest of the set plays out with some of the great and good from Jackson Browne‘s half century portfolio with ‘The Pretender’, ‘In the Shape of a Heart’ and ‘Running on Empty’ all getting a notable outing. There were some noticeable omissions too, as that-song-from-that-film was left in the dust jacket, along with ‘The Load Out’, ‘Rosie’ or anything from Lawyers in Love. As half the Symphony Hall takes to its feet whilst the other half rush to the front of the stage, we say goodbye to ‘An Evening with Jackson Browne’ in an encore medley of ‘Take it Easy’ and ‘Our Lady of the Well’. And I was right, we would have welcomed longer.

BREVIEW: An Evening with Jackson Browne @ Symphony Hall 27.06.17 / Aatish RamchurnI have my reasons for being here tonight as everyone in this room will do; at nearly £50 a ticket in a four story auditorium, that’s a lot of reasons. And as I began the evening wondering who I’d be sharing it with I end realising the error of my assumptions; Jackson Browne is a composite songwriter, a confident performer, with the power of both his lyrics and his melodies reaching comfortably across five decades and beyond. You could accuse me of ‘gushing’ here but it’s hard not to when you see this on stage.

I guess it’s the memories and the inspiration too, getting to believe that one person’s work can truly make a difference – and what’s more personal than your politics, eh Steve? This made me write.

And now, over 30 years after the car journeys that introduced me to this artist, I get to see such expression delivered so beautifully – all whilst crossing two boxes off my bucket list and singing along to both of them.

(‘Late for the Sky’… in case you were wondering)

For more on Jackson Browne, visit

For more from Inside Recordings, visit


For more on the Guacamole Fund, visit

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BPREVIEW: An Evening with Jackson Browne @ Symphony Hall 27.06.17

BPREVIEW: An Evening with Jackson Browne @ Symphony Hall 27.06.17

Words by Ed King

On Tuesday 27th June, An Evening with Jackson Browne comes to the Symphony Hall.

Doors open at 7:30pm, with tickets priced between £42.50 – £49 plus booking fee. For direct gig info, including full venue details and online ticket sales, click here.

N.B. At the time of writing this event was near to being SOLD OUT – please check availability directly with the Symphony Hall or reputable ticket outlets.

“They sell us the president the same way; they sell us our clothes and our cars. They sell us everything from youth to religion the same time they sell us our wars.”

Jackson Browne released his eponymous debut album back 1972, following a pretty revered string of songs written for other artists – including Nico, Joni Mitchell, Eagles and The Byrds. Signing to Asylum Records in 1971 Browne’s five albums would build a steady commercial success story, consolidating his place in the spotlight and making him a lauded contributor to the American country and folk music scenes.

But to a child of the 80’s, growing up with Marty McFly and the Reagan administration, it was Jackson Browne’s 1986 album, Lives in the Balance, that would leave its mark above all else. As the de facto soundtrack to any long distance car journey with my mum, Lives in the Balance would be the first album I learned to sing along too – embracing the questions, accusations and declarations that Browne threw at America’s aggressive foreign policy, even if only initially by proxy. I was eight.

As my understanding of the world grew, and my frightening realisation that the game is indeed rigged, the track ‘Lives in the Balance’ itself would become the painful reference point and retort of so many frustrated discussions. I owe a lot of my perspective, political and otherwise, to the words that run though this album.

What is happening today happened yesterday, and was carved from the foundations of every day before that. We are ruled not governed.

Lives in the Balance was also Jackson Browne’s last release though Asylum – the label launched by his then manager David Geffen – with Browne signing to Electra for his subsequent four LPs. Jackson Browne would go on to form Inside Recordings in 1999, releasing his last two studio albums on the imprint – Time the Conqueror (2008) and Standing in the Breach (2014).

An Evening with… denotes music, stories and on stage anecdotes with the suffix – so considering the relentless tour schedules, rock, roll and public domain relationships that Jackson Browne has accrued in his fifty professional years, this could be more colourful than most. No offence Neil. Joining Jackson Browne on stage at the Symphony Hall will be Val McCallum (guitar), Mauricio Lewak (drums), Jeff Young (keyboards), Bob Glaub (bass), Alethea Mills (vocals) and Greg Leisz (lap steel, pedal steel).

Tickets from this Jackson Browne tour are also being sold to in aid of the Guacamole Fund, a ‘tax exempt, public charity’ that has been ‘supporting grass roots activities, with education, outreach, networking and funding, in the areas of the environment and wildlife, social change, peace with justice, energy and a non nuclear future’. To learn more about the Guacamole Fund, click here.

‘Lives in the Balance’ – Jackson Browne 

An Evening with Jackson Browne is coming to the Symphony Hall on 27th June. For direct event info, including venue details and online ticket sales, click here.

For more on Jackson Browne, visit

For more from Inside Recordings, visit


For more on the Guacamole Fund, visit

For more from the Town & Symphony Halls, visit

BPREVIEW: Supersonic Festival @ Various 16-18.06.17

Words by Charlotte Heap

Back after a brief hiatus, Supersonic Festival is returning with its trademark artistically adventurous programme – promising a weekend of experimental experiences across Birmingham.

Launched in 2003, this established festival has a reputation as one of the UK’s most anticipated avante garde music and arts events. Utilising some of Birmingham’s best performance spaces, Capsule (the self-proclaimed ‘cultural alchemist’) have curated a schedule which is bursting with cutting edge artists.

Organist Anna Von Hausswolff opens the festival at the Town Hall: her gothic style complements the concert hall’s magnificent architecture, fusing live electronics and a traditional guitar band with the huge sound of the historic organ installed in 1834.

Capsule have incorporated Lucy McLauchlan’s large scale street art in and around the Digbeth based festival hub, hoping that her monochromatic explorations of Birmingham’s waterways – displayed along the canalside – will entice the viewer to McLauchlan‘s residency within Centrala (Minerva Works) and Boxxed (Floodgate Street).

Committed to bringing challenging cultural experiences to the masses, Supersonic even has a child-focused performance: Melt Banana, a Japanese band, are bringing a somewhat intimidating described “riot of sound and fury” to Symphony Hall’s exalted stage. For Birmingham’s younger audience it should be a memorable musical moment in one of the country’s best concert venues.

An important part of the Brummie cultural calendar, Supersonic needed to come back with a bang after it’s break in 2016. With workshops, talks, film showings and more, the festival’s 2017 line-up is a welcome return for Birmingham’s culture vultures.  Ticket prices for Supersonic events will vary across the weekend’s programme, depending on how much you want to do and where you want to be.

Supersonic Festival comes to various venues across Birmingham, running from 16th to 18th June. For direct festival info and online tickets sales, visit