by Jeremy Ames
At Regina Spektor’s sold out show at the Orpheum in Boston earlier this month, the same guy yelled “Music Box!” from the audience three times. Each time, Regina launched into one of her more laid back, albeit beautiful, ballads. Regardless of the fact that most artists construct their setlists in advance, and playing “Music Box” was never really in the cards, it does beg the question, “At what point can an artist take ultimate control of their setlist?” And in doing so, does someone like Spektor end up with a better show, something more resembling art than pop?
Here’s a visualization of Regina’s setlist. For simplicity’s sake, the focus is on Spotify listens and provides an approximate timeline of when the guy got restless and wanted to pick his own song.
Granted, popularity as measured simply by “listens” can be skewed by length of time since a song has been released. In other words, songs on Regina’s 2016 Remember Me To Life album, which made up a good portion of the middle of the setlist, might look less “popular” than older songs that have just had more time to be played.
However, the more somebody has listened to a song, the more ingrained it becomes, which is, in itself, a form of acclaim. Think earworms and choruses that the audience can sing along to, cell phones (or lighters, depending on how old you are) swaying in the air.
The point is, for about an hour, the audience forewent earworms in favor of soothing vocal art. In “Light,” a touching narrative on the new phase in her life, Regina sang about how “You and your daddy, you both look like poets./ Your eyes are open wide while you are in a dream.” In “Obsolete” she explored, “Why am I incomplete? Obsolete?” Newsflash Regina, you’re far from obsolete.
Energy and Eccentricity
Also vital to a performance are the energy of a song. Between her red dress worn for International Women’s Day, and the stage lighting, and a riling performance of “Bleeding Heart,” the place was on fire.
With Regina, her performance is also about the eccentricity factor. Her career has been built on it. We crave psychedelic lyrics, clapping, onomatopoeia, falsetto, yelling, and everything in between. That might explain why the guy was yelling for one of her most unique songs.
Regina delivered. The Orpheum was sold out because the audience knew she would deliver and was able take more control of her own setlist because she knows she’ll sell out. That series of songs we all just willingly soaked in were rewarded with an encore that was like 4th of July fireworks, culminating in “Samson.”
In the end it simply made for a night of amazing art. Now you might want to take that setlist and turn it into your own music box.