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SUZANNE VEGA, Cadogan Hall, London
16 June 2010

Photos by Noel Buckley

Suzanne Vega, photo by Noel Buckley

Suzanne Vega and the Cadogan Hall are well suited in terms of their understated elegance and undoubted style.

Home of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, this Grade II listed building is almost the prefect choice for the lyrical craft and lilting voice of Suzanne Vega.

And with a string quartet in tow the evening did have echoes of a Chamber concert. But while the audience was enthusiastic if not at times quiet to the point of being reverential, Suzanne's on stage demeanour - warm and engaging but equally efficient and focussed - brought a mixture of the humorous, the perceptive, the poignant and the inspired to fill the rafters of the old building.

Ostensibly here to support a minimalist re-recorded collection of love songs, Suzanne was taking no chances with the cavernous hall bringing with her guitarist Gerry Leonard and long time bass playing MD Mike Visceglia, as well as the Millennium String Quartet on a handful of numbers.

Suzanne Vega, photo by Noel Buckley

And while there were few surprises and the bulk of the material tuned out to be a career retrospective, it was the explanatory intro's and occasional banter with the crowd that provided the fleeting insights into some of the songs and their context.

She swept through the opening 'Marlene On The Wall', smiling briefly as the audience recognised the opening line and finished with a brief comment confirming that she considered it to be a love song; "The opening line starts with, 'Even if I am in love with you'".

There was a similar applause of recognition for the beautiful 'Small Blue Thing' on which her clear diction and deliberate phrasing of , 'I am thrown against the sky, I am raining down in pieces, I am scattering like light' - with the emphasis on the closing ' t', swooped beguilingly above Mike Visceglia's precise bass notes and Gerry Leonard's ethereal guitar.

Suzanne Vega, photo by Noel Buckley

She put down her guitar and simply clicked her fingers on opening Bossa groove of 'Caramel'. A tale of desire she asked playfully, 'you know what the song is about don't you?' Looking around the room you suspect everyone there probably knew all the intimate nuances of all her songs

And with the opening triumvirate from the new collection over, she introduced 'Frank and Eva' as a song about "Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardener who married, divorced and had a life long love affair, quite a bit to get into 3 minutes" . But she dutifully managed it with some lovely phrasing and a great rhythmic hook, 'Not Enough To Be in Love'. Gerry and Mike added some stirring bv's, the crowd became almost animated and then Suzanne introduced her special guests the Millennium String Quartet.

Overlooking the irony of her newly rediscovered minimalist folk approach and the 7 musicians on stage, it quickly became apparent that this was a well thought out move. And after toying with her audience about the gender differences between various cities and towns, she made the most of 'New York is A Woman'. The string intro and between verse fills was very effect and doubly so on another Latin influenced highlight, 'The Pornographers Dream'. The bowed instruments added a lilting sweep behind the line, 'Out of his hands, over his head, Out of his reach, under this real life, Hidden in veils'.

Suzanne Vega, photo by Noel Buckley

And then as if remembering the new collection and by way of contrast, she played 'Gypsy' in solo mode before another humorous stale of two boy ex friends from New York and Manchester respectively, who provided the contrastingly sad tale of 'Harbor'.

The one aspect about Suzanne Vega that is perhaps too often overlooked is her real sense of presence. Yes she has the craft of a wordsmith, an expressive textured voice that can swoop and soar by turns, but above all she's never lost her coffee house folk roots.

She's a troubadour as happy telling a story or embellishing a song preamble. On the guitar drenched 'Tombstone' the story involved burying a dead cat on a burning raft as part of a viking funeral.

Suzanne Vega, photo by Noel Buckley

Guitarist Gerry Leonard meanwhile worked a psychedelic storm born of echo, reverb and foot pedals as he evoked the fear and anger of 'Blood Makes Noise'. It was the closest we ever got to rocking out.

Finally Suzanne mentioned the 25th anniversary of her debut album as an opening to 'Soldier & Queen', the poetic mediaeval love story with a twist that didn't make it on to the new collection. She then added an unlikely but very effective Zappa like rap on 'Neigbourhood Girls'.

And finally it was into the home strait with full blown 'Some Journey' on which the sextet filled the hall with the song's sense of urgency and its undulating melody.

Suzanne finished with the big hitters 'Luka' and 'Tom's Diner', extended her arms to receive warm applause. A case perhaps of the audience mirroring the performer, in a triumph of the cerebral over the passionate.

Review by Pete Feenstra

Photos by Noel Buckley


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