Regina Spektor respectfully disagrees with writer Thomas Wolfe’s contention that you can’t go home again.
After 23 years away, the quirky New York keyboardist returned last month to play triumphant concerts in both the city of her birth, Moscow, and an exotic metropolis she’d never seen, St. Petersburg.
“Just being in Russia was amazing — it was completely bizarre, and everything still feels like a dream,” she says. “I was there for a week, and I’ve come home and I’m just sort of in borscht withdrawal.”
Spektor, who appears at Outside Lands on Sunday, was dazzled by St. Petersburg’s imposing architecture and stunned by the ingenious gravity-controlled fountains at the Peterhof Palace.
“And going to the Hermitage just blew my mind,” she says. “I didn’t watch (Sokurov’s) ‘Russian Ark’ movie just because I knew that someday I was going to get to go there, and I didn’t want to see stuff before I went — I wanted to experience it in person. And the promoters in both Moscow and St. Petersburg were just the nicest. They showed us everything, and were so glad to share the cities with us.”
The traditional food proved equally alluring, and Spektor savored borscht four times a day. But she was on a private, less touristy mission as well.
She was determined to visit her first piano teacher; the house she grew up in, where she learned to play on a Petrof upright; and the historic Arbat Street abode of renowned Muscovite songwriter Bulat Okudzhava.
She covers two Okudzhava songs in Russian on the bonus-track edition of her new recording, “What We Saw From the Cheap Seats,” which also features a Russian version of the album’s bouncy, whimsical single “Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas).”
Though Spektor left her homeland at age 9, during Perestroika, Russia would color her offbeat, classical-edged compositions on albums such as 2001’s “11:11” debut and 2004’s breakthrough “Soviet Kitsch.”
“I never went through the thing that a lot of kids go through, where they get really embarrassed about where they’re from, or they don’t want to eat the food or speak the language,” she says. “In America I was always the weird kid who fantasized about having salmon caviar and soft-boiled eggs for breakfast. Like in the Old Country.”
Yet things felt completely new on Spektor’s tour. The U.S. consulate livened up her St. Petersburg gig. But Moscow was even more fun, thanks to all the childhood chums in the audience.
“Everywhere I looked, especially after the show, there were faces of people that I knew and loved,” Spektor says. “It was really incredible.”
IF YOU GO
Playing Outside Lands Music and Art Festival
Where: Lands End Stage, Polo Field, Golden Gate Park, S.F.
When: 4 to 4:55 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $95 to $210 for single day, $225 to $495 for three days