Monday, 10 February 2014

Suzanne Vega at The Barbican

On Friday Ms Suzanne Vega came to town to sing songs old and new and take us into the realm of the Queen of Pentacles (her new album). Suzanne played at the Barbican in London where her live album from 2012 was recorded. It was mainly just her and guitarist, Gerry Leonard, on that wide stage, joined for a few songs by Alison Balsom on trumpet. It was a very stripped back set, even with Gerry's inventive guitar playing.

With a new album to promote for the first time in about seven years we had a 'hits' plus new songs kind of setlist and it worked really well with the new songs blending in unobtrusively with the classics. That, of course, meant that some of the songs I love hearing Suzanne play live had to be dropped to make space for the new ones but that made it quite intriguing trying to guess what she'd keep in the set. It was also good to hear the new songs played live, some of which will undoubtedly stay in Suzanne's repertoire long after this tour to launch them is over.

Suzanne came on, dressed in black and holding a black disc that she hit and it turned into a black top hat which she put on to open with 'Marlene On The Wall', the first song of hers I heard back in the '80s. We were then taken back and forward in time with old favourites and new songs from the latest album. Old favourites included 'Caramel', 'Gypsy', 'The Queen and The Soldier' and 'Left Of Centre'. Her voice is as soothing and powerful as ever and continues to draw me in as she unfolded the lyrics to her songs. We also had two of my personal favourites, 'Solitude Standing' and 'Small Blue Thing'.

From the new album, 'Tales From The Realm Of The Queen Of Tentacles' we were given  'Fools Complaint' (that introduces the Queen of Tentacles), 'Crack In The Wall', 'Jacob and The Angel' (which Suzanne introduced by saying she was brought up as a Buddhist), 'Don't Uncork What You Can't Contain' and 'Song of The Stoic'. This latter song is a sort of follow-up to 'Luka' that tells us what happened later in his life. Alison Balsom came on to add trumpet to 'Horizon' and, while introducing the new favourite 'I Never Wear White', Suzanne explained that a different version of the album had to be released in the Bible belt in America because the song contains the word 'virgin'. It's a dark song with dark riffs and tells us why Suzanne always wears black.

The set ended with the almost mandatory 'Luka' and 'Tom's Diner' with Suzanne once again wearing her top hat as she moved around the stage. The encore was a surprising version of 'Walk On The Wild Side' in memory of Lou Reed followed by 'Some Journey' and 'Rosemary' and then on she came again for a second encore with 'In Liverpool'.

It was a very enjoyable evening with Ms Vega sharing her songs with us. It wasn't just me that enjoyed her either, the gig was sold out and she received standing ovations several times. The new songs work really well mixed into a setlist with the older songs - they're all her creations, afar all, and there was no jarring between old and new. It'll be interesting to see which songs stay in the setlist for future gigs. That means I'll just have to keep going to see Suzanne play live whenever she's in London. And I will.

Thanks for a great evening Suzanne!

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