Suzanne Vega is an odd one, and no mistake. Her audience, however, are perhaps odder. The gush of middle class appreciation which met her as she trotted out onto the stage of the Brighton Dome was almost embarrassing. We, the audience, waited as she bowed, adjusted her mic, picked up a black disc and transformed it into a top hat. Jauntily placed on her head, the hat played hommage to Marlene Dietrich, the subject of the first song, Marlene on the Wall.
With the question of how much old stuff she’ll play answered, it was time to listen. She’s a little shorter of breath these days, and the arrangement is too long … but it’s not a bad start. The audience love it, simply love it. And so she continues, bantering gently with the audience, telling tales out of school, explaining the inspiration behind her songs. She switches character for a trio of tunes from her play on Carson McCullers, and plays a smattering of newer tunes.
The newer tunes (and by this I mean post 1987) are generally weak in comparison to the first flush of artistic success she enjoyed from her first two albums, and each oldie, The Queen and the Soldier, for example, receives two rounds of applause as she begins – one from those who recognise the introduction, the other from those who recognise the first line. Almost as telling as those who begin the handclap in Tom’s Diner and Blood Makes Noise but have no idea where 1 is …
Her voice is pretty much the same, though it’s not helped by poor sound which means every bit of extra volume spits at the audience, and her guitar playing as fragile as ever, though it;s swamped tonally and in volume by her accompaniest.
Now, I know I have a beef about guitarists, but this PRS-wielding chap didn’t seem to understand tone at all. He sounded like a banker with his first multi-fx. Really poor distortion, too-strident clean sounds which simply ate frequencies. His parts were often odd, too, and it sounded as if he was struggling with some of the songs. Give him his due, however, he did some interesting stuff with loops, and was plainly trying to keep old songs fresh. Too many errors, too.
But the audience didn’t care so long as she kept those hits a-comin …
Vega’s patter was scripted off-the-cuff, and sometimes a little patronising (‘Harper Lee is a famous author’ – purlease, this is a Guardian audience. There are probably three people here with Harper Lee PhDs), and her scripted encore likewise. She asked for requests, and waited until the songs she wanted were shouted out. Likewise her ‘like me on facebook’ call, for ‘then I can look at your families, and we can get to know each other … a bit’. Bless her.
Don’t get me wrong, it was a pretty good gig, and she understands what her audience wants. Artists like Vega often refuse to play the old stuff because they want to progress. Vega understands she’s never written anything quite like it, and it’s what her audience wants to hear.
The dome was sprinkled with empty seats and bald heads … domes within domes … but for her audience, Suzanne Vega was pitch-perfect.
See my review for Latest here.