With volume 4 of her re-worked back catalogue due for release later this year, I’m surprised that unlike many contemporaries, Suzanne Vega doesn’t push for the hard sell. In fact, the new album is barely mentioned and though the re-releases are centred around themes (love, people & places, states of being and family) none of her recent trips to the UK have focused on this aspect. Perhaps it’s simply that she has too many classics, that to skip the like of Luka or Marlene On The Wall would be deemed as some sort of sacrilege, but regardless of the reason, it creates a sense of earnest so frequently missing from the live arena.
With just guitarist Gerry Leonard for accompaniment, Suzanne confirms just how timeless her works are. 5 years since the release of any new material, and several more since the penning of Gyspy and When Heroes Go Down it would be easy for the songs to feel dated and for her own enjoyment to lapse, but instead she sings as if it’s the first times she’s played them, passion and warmth sinking into each note. Small Blue Thing is filled with atmosphere whilst Some Journey drifts across to an almost rock sound, but it’s the scratched sound of Tom’s Diner which carries most weight, the pews of Union Chapel vibrating and Gerry’s loop pedal combining with Suzanne’s spoken word style vocals to create an intricate arrangement of one of her best loved songs.
Sadly it seems to fall short in the middle, with New York Is My Destination, Song of Annemarie (Terror, Pity, Love) and Harper Lee (all taken from her play Carson McCullers ‘Talks About Love’) becoming a little too cabaret. Were she not holding an unlit cigarette there’s a fear she may even have thrown in some jazz hands. Whilst it’s here her diction comes to life, highlighting her ability to mould and blend her voice, and harnessing her power to bring to life other’s stories, it never measures up to the likes of The Queen And The Soldier, becoming too comic in it’s delivery.
Nevertheless with a hint to some new material in 2013, a fitting tribute to Mark Linkous with The Man Who Played God, and the honouring of an audience request for Calypso Suzanne delivers with almost every turn, resulting in an unsurprising standing ovation. Having seen Suzanne in other venues, it’s clear when the acoustics of the venue match her song writing ability the result is breathtaking and whilst it might have been more than 20 years since she first hit the airwaves, when performed lived they’re still packed full of vitality.
Photos © Jo Cox and must not be reproduced without prior consent