"Your face — love it," one fan shouted at Regina Spektor during a performance in suburban Philadelphia last spring.
It was one of many shouts of adoration directed toward Spektor by her overly zealous admirers.
"It's nice," Spektor said. "The fans are really enthusiastic. I never thought that it would ever be this way when I started playing music."
After Spektor and her parents left behind their native Russia for New York in 1989, music became her pre-occupation.
Spektor, who was 9 when her parents moved West, played piano and treasured The Beatles and Queen bootlegs acquired by her father on the Soviet black market before she hit the states.
But her mind was blown when she made the transition to New York's vibrant, eclectic Bronx just before punk broke. "I was always crazy about music, but it reached another level when I came to New York," Spektor said. "I heard hip-hop for the first time, and then there was Latin music, which just spilled out of car and apartment windows. I heard these new rhythms for the first time, and it was just amazing. And then thbere was punk rock and so much more."
Spektor played piano throughout her childhood and was a big music fan. "That's all I thought I would ever be," Spektor said. "When I thought of who made music, I thought of the Beatles and Bob Dylan. It was all so male."
But the teenage Spektor made a discovery in 1994. "I found out about Ani DiFranco," Spektor said. "I also heard Tori Amos and Joni Mitchell, and I realized that women can write and record songs, too. I saw that Ani DiFranco makes her music and travels from town to town and plays her songs, and she's so awesome. I thought, 'I could do that, too.' "
Spektor, who will perform Thursday at Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall, has realized her dream. She has crafted albums full of dramatic, poignant and passionate pop-rock for a decade.
She makes fine use of her wide vocal range and pens idiosyncratic lyrics that are typically part of first-person character studies.
"I need to do things my way," Spektor said. "In that way I'm like Ani DiFranco. I didn't think I could do that unless I was like her and did it all DIY [do it yourself] style with my own label. I didn't think I could be part of a label. I used to think that all labels suck."
But Spektor has found a home with Sire Records, which gives her autonomy. "[Sire CEO] Seymour Stein is incredible," Spektor said. "He and the whole staff at Sire have been supportive. They let me do what I need to do."
Spektor will feature cuts from her latest album, "What We Saw From The Cheap Seats," which dropped in May, when she hits Clearwater.
"Cheap Seats" is comprised of varied, quirky, arty pop, which finds Spektor rendering dramatic, clever songs. Each tune is a vivid, moving short story.
"This album is like the others since I just want to go out there and challenge myself," Spektor said. "I want to make the best songs possible. That's all I can do."
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Where: Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 McMullen Booth Road, Clearwater
Tickets: $39.50 and $49.50; (727) 791-7400 and www.rutheckerdhall.com