Last week it was time to immerse myself again into the deceptively placid water that is the music of Suzanne Vega as she was appearing at the Cadogan Hall, part of a small tour of the UK to promote her album CLOSE-UP VOL.1: LOVE SONGS.
As usual though, it was only when once immersed I remembered that all of Vega's songs, while placid on the surface, have a dangerous undertow.This was the 5th time Owen and I have seen her in concert and each time has seen a slight change in line-up and setlist so although I always get to hear her popular songs there are also the odd one or two thrown in which I am unaware of. Owen of course has all her studio albums so always claps a bit louder at those ones!
Speaking of studio albums, it was with some surprise that I realised that CLOSE-UP is only her eighth studio recording in a career that spans 25 years - a rare batting average, beaten of course by Kate Bush's eight in 32 years. Now I think about it, Kirsty MacColl managed five albums in 21 years and Laura Nyro recorded nine studio albums in 30 years. An obvious answer I suppose is that it is more the luck of the female singer/songwriter for life to be seen to intervene for long spells. A good subject for a blog eh Constant Reader?The CLOSE-UP series should bolster her total somewhat as she plans to release three more themed albums. After her well-received and Grammy-winning BEAUTY AND CRIME cd in 2007, Suzanne found herself dumped the next year after only 2 years into her contract with Blue Note Records. As a way to wrest some control over her legacy she has set about re-recording her songs and releasing them herself as the CLOSE-UP series. Another example of the fascinating ways that established artists are reacting to the through-the-looking-glass world of the current music business.
To be honest I can't hear that much difference between the originals and the re-records, the most obvious being Vega's voice which has of course gained in maturity while still retaining her idiosyncratic timbre. Actually the best way to hear her is in concert as that's when her intricate songs of love and loss come into their own - especially as Vega's personality is one that is still delightfully dry and acerbic - friendly but guarded, aloof yet with a devilish wit, a real new Yorker.She was accompanied with just two other musicians - her longtime bass player Mike Visceglia and electric guitarist Gerry Leonard who, alongside Vega's acoustic guitar, came up with wonderfully layered soundscapes for her songs. They were quite extraordinary at times, especially when Suzanne sang the great BLOOD MAKES NOISE against Visceglia's ominously rumbling bass and Leonard's fractured guitar squall. They were joined for a few songs by the Millenia String Quartet who gave those numbers a fuller sound but her songs are adaptable to any arrangement which always makes the concerts interesting.
My own favorites from the set were MARLENE ON THE WALL, LEFT OF CENTER, NEW YORK IS A WOMAN, SMALL BLUE THING, CARAMEL, GYPSY, SOME JOURNEY, IN LIVERPOOL, BLOOD MAKES NOISE and of course LUKA and TOM'S DINER (played a la the DNA remix).After two encores and two standing ovations we made our way out to the foyer to see - for the first time after one of our jaunts to see her - a table set up next to the merch stand. I had told Owen I suspected as the new album was on her own label she would probably do a signing to shift a few units and sure enough there she was. We pooled our resources to buy a cd each and got them signed - I thanked her for the show and told her I was away home to practice my projection so she might just hear me next time when I shout out a request for NO CHEAP THRILL as she has never sang the damn thing in all 5 times of seeing her!
It was delightful later to read that she posted online "Last night's audience in London was SO GREAT!! Mwah!! Kisses to everybody."