MILWAUKEE — Against the fabricated images of female singers like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, Soviet Union-born songstress Regina Spektor and black sheep-styles of music have been a breath of fresh air. Monday night at The Rave, Spektor delivered a most-noteworthy show. Her femininity was evident in her soft, melodious voice, and listeners were charmed by her sincere modesty. Drawing on her ability to intrigue with a genuine smile and kindhearted — but slightly coy — dialogue, Spektor blew audience members away with the intensity and strength of a voice unfound in many contemporary artists. Her ability to incorporate classical, jazz, punk and lounge is exciting and a clear indication of her endless abilities as both a songwriter and performer. Opening for Spektor was New York-based artist Jack Dishel, who goes by the stage name "Only Son." Although he sometimes tours with a full band, Dishel performed solo for the restless Spektor fans. He played a fairly lukewarm 30–minute set on the acoustic guitar that listeners seemed to enjoy. Dishel accompanied his strumming with tunes from his iPod, and he even had a few conversations with a prerecorded speaker that both amused the crowd and perhaps invited them to raise a few eyebrows. Dishel's lighthearted banter and quiet compositions were entertaining, but many were unsure of how to handle his schizophrenic performance. He would end songs abruptly, and it would take the audience several moments to respond. Even though his voice echoed a gruff Ben Gibbard from indie-pop success Death Cab for Cutie, Dishel's antics indicated a much less serious attitude than the audience appreciated or even expected. Not much later, Spektor opened her much-anticipated set with a short a cappella song that filled The Rave with an air of reverence. To open in such a way showed that she trusted the audience to give her its full attention — and they gave it completely. Afterward, Spektor sang into "On the Radio," one of the more popular songs from Begin to Hope, the record that launched Spektor into mainstream fame. What made her performance so fresh and thrilling was that she offered something very different from her album recording, as the performance was full of different emphases and guttural noises that Spektor so masterfully produced. Spektor's decision to play without a band behind her was wise. Her flawless, classically-trained piano skills as well as her percussive vocals were more than enough to provoke and gratify her eager audience. "Summer in the City" included balancing a melody against a counter-melody to produce a striking catharsis of sound that sang out poignantly across her audience. Spektor's most impressive display of talent was exhibited in "Poor Little Rich Boy," a song from her 2004 success Soviet Kitsch. While she played the melody on the piano with one hand, Spektor provided a profoundly resonate rhythm section as she tapped a drum stick. The beats she provided were syncopated, which made her ability to simultaneously play the piano all the more remarkable. Yet, in addition to her instrumental mastery, Spektor showcased her intellectual strength in "Little Rich Boy," also from Soviet Kitsch, with references to F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. "Poor little rich boy, all the world is okay/ The water runs off your skin and down into the drain/ You’re reading Fitzgerald, you’re reading Hemmingway/ They’re both super smart and drinking in the cafes." Yet, this is just one example of Spektor's intelligent songwriting that is so entertaining and engaging. Still, Regina Spektor's most important quality is her playfulness. As she performs, listeners can easily detect amusement and an irony in her voice that hint at a lack of sincerity. Lyrics like "All the nonbelievers, they get to eat dirt/ All the believers spit on their graves" from "Baby Jesus" show us that she glorifies tongue-in-cheek performances. Likewise, "Sailor Song" is an anecdote that includes plenty of swearing and flippant banter, while "Music Box" describes the need for people to escape the monotony of life by drinking soapy dishwater. In her unique way, Spektor is always reminding the audience how fun she is with her goofy song lyrics and youthful energy. Spektor concluded her set with a performance of John Lennon's "Real Love," which wasn't her first political message of the evening. Her T-shirt read "Endangered Species," and she previously included a subtle jab at Fox News. Her forward messages were entertaining and indicative of an admirable consciousness that everyone seemed to appreciate. But Spektor was not finished for the evening. After several rounds of applause, the singer began her encore with a version of "Hotel Song," accompanied by opening act, Jack Dishel. His beatboxing, combined with her punctuated, emphatic vocals, created a stunning plethora of sounds that was poppy and fresh. Spektor's encore also included "Fidelity," "Field Below" and "Dead Rat," a brief a cappella song she included because it had Milwaukee in its lyrics. Spektor's decision to round out her encore with "Samson" was a smart one. While it may have been much more satisfying for Spektor to finish her flawless concert with a lighthearted song, the fans who filled the venue had the ability to unite under the spell of Spektor's expressive, soulful performance of the popular hit. Regina Spektor's powerful, streamlined voice Monday night was proof that formidable, female musicians still exist in mainstream music today. Her curly brown hair and bright red lipstick were elegant, while her wide, meaningful smile was charming and familiar. Spektor's quirky style, sardonic lyrics and inspired piano playing were an excellent recipe for success.