A Suzanne Vega gig, apparently, is a game of two halves. Opening her show in that distinctively laid-back and pensive style that’s helped forge a career spanning a quarter of a century, Suzanne’s first half-dozen tracks have an air of top-notch lounge music. It’s mellow to the point of sleep-inducing yet – from opener -Marlene On The Wall’ to memorable classics like -Tom’s Diner’ – littered with the inarguable class of a top-end songwriter.
Vega belongs in front of a crowd. Effortlessly charming, she briefs us with the story of each track, from -Tombstone’ (a reminder to her mother that, should Suzanne die first, she doesn’t want to be washed in the sink and given a Viking funeral like the family cat) to -Pornographer’s Dream’ (a particular type of movie maker must dream of clothed women, right? Librarians, perhaps?), an insight into a mind bristling with offbeat creativity. Silent and respectful, Suzanne’s crowd spans the generations, with many mouthing back every word.
The -lounge music’ impression of the first half, though, is only solidified by the propping of Suzanne’s newest album at the stage front and her unusual decision to take a ten minutes mid-show break. The approach has a dual effect: extreme relaxation, and the air of a set that’s so musically strong it almost reeks of cover songs. We mean that in the nicest possible way: the songs are just that strong, this is all Suzanne’s own work.
The break, of course, may be symbolic: when Vega returns from a foray backstage, she’s in a darker mood, adding dark lighting to efforts like -Blood Makes Noise’ and the chillingly stark -Luka’. The young 50 year old’s passion for her own music doesn’t seem to have waned even one notch: she happily reels out the crowd-pleasing classics, but keeps things on track with her newest material, too, including a stunning new effort featuring the contributions of the late Mark Linkous. Suzanne Vega and Sparklehorse may seem like an unlikely combination, but Suzanne’s vocal tribute to her former writing partner (an album produced together with Linkous is due out next month) is a touching moment.
She’s not above requests, either, -being sporadic’ in throwing fan’s favorite -Calypso’ into the encore: it’s the most popular of at least a dozen requests from her sizable back catalogue. Surrounded by the distinctive atmosphere that such a legendary name brings to the confines of The Village, the -left of centre’ New Yorker is in her element: this is intimate, delicate and at times exceptionally touching. Long may Suzanne’s lengthy creative streak continue.
Photos by Abraham Tarrush.