Friday, 4 July 2014

Suzanne Vega - Live at The Lighthouse, Poole (3rd July 2014)

A warm Summer evening on the south coast of England, and the promise of great music from a true legend, drew us to Poole and the majestic Lighthouse. A venue that has been transformed in recent times from the old Arts Centre to a now modern, bright and vibrant concert hall was to be graced by the presence of Suzanne Vega. And having only seen her live once before (briefly at a dark and wet Glastonbury, from the back of a packed noisy acoustic tent many years ago), I was more than a bit excited to see one of my musical idols in a proper venue for the first time.

...But first, the support act. No big name: Chris Simmons from Brighton (who I suspect no one, including me, had heard of) walked on stage with his guitar to a smattering of applause, plugged it in, and just got on with it. With a limited collection of his own songs to choose from he managed to fill his half hour with two Squeeze covers including a superb version of Up The Junction. At one point he asked us, 'as you are so quiet, do you mind if I unplug my guitar?' and he did, playing completely acoustically. It was mesmerising. I have absolute admiration for anyone in this business who can get up on a stage with a voice and just sing. There is nowhere to hide and he didn't have to. Definitely one to watch for the future and hopefully this (short) run of support gigs will bring him an audience...

This year Suzanne Vega has, in the words of my fellow gig-goer JC, 'got her mojo back'. The release of her eighth studio album: Tales From The Realm Of The Queen Of Pentacles, after nearly five years re-working her own back-catalogue for the 'Close-Up' series, is her first new music for seven years and she is clearly re-energised and motivated. This was a no-frills performance with no big screens, light shows or huge orchestra. Backed by the brilliant Gerry Leonard (aka Spooky Ghost) on guitar (he also produced 'Pentacles') and Doug Yowell on drums, the three musicians more than filled the stage with Vega's words and music.

Naturally songs from Tales From The Realm Of The Queen Of Pentacles featured heavily in a set that blended old and new. The intro was the trio of theatrical Fat Man And Dancing Girl, anthemic Marlene On The Wall (with added top hat) and the sultry Caramel before three new songs: the wonderful Fool's Compliant, mysterious Crack In The Wall and enlightening Jacob And The Angel. By this stage, Vega was chatting to the audience in such a charming, funny and engaging way, trying to explain the new songs and their significance. The beautiful Small Blue Thing, gorgeous Gypsy and dramatic poetry of The Queen And The Soldier followed by the endlessly playful Don't Cork What You Can't Contain, spiritual Laying On Of Hands / Stoic 2 and moody Left Of Center formed the delicious centre-piece. To bring the main set to a close, latest crowd-pleaser I Never Wear White lived up to the billing - a definite highlight, lead to the reflective Some Journey, heart-breaking Luka and then to finish a full-on 'DNA'-esque version of Tom's Diner. I'm a huge fan of the original vocal-only take but this worked better on stage.

We didn't have to wait too long for the inevitable encore. Vega explained that they were off to Lisbon for the next leg of the European tour and songs featuring Portuguese Women are the order of the day... so she re-started with a modern update of the elegant Iron Bound / Fancy Poultry before asking us what we wanted. Now was my or die. I yelled 'Blood Makes Noise' (yes me, really), a song I was surprised didn't make the main set and I was determined to hear it. Turning to Leonard who was already setting up his effects pedals, 'shall we do it?'. And they did, a brilliant 'solo-vocal' version complete with fuzzy guitars and electronics, capturing the spirit of the original. Vega said afterwards that she didn't expect that 'the people of Poole' would be up for that. I'm not from Poole. Then, someone else asked for the melodic In Liverpool, so thankfully I didn't have to - another wonderful highlight, before Rosemary brought the night to a close.

Suzanne Vega did not disappoint. The lack of anything from Songs In Red And Gray and Beauty & Crime was a noticeable omission: Bound, Unbound, Penitent, If I Were A Weapon etc... and World Before Columbus would have been my second shout of the night, but with a wealth of songs to choose from it was not possible to fit in everything. But clearly Vega still has the love for a performance and the feeling is mutual. A magical evening that could have gone on forever, listening to one of the best voices in the business, performing at brilliant as ever.
-- CS

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