Suzanne Vega @ Town Hall, Birmingham – Monday 3rd February 2014

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Review by Dean Pedley



More than two decades since her commercial heyday New York singer / songwriter Suzanne Vega remains an appealing live draw as the near capacity Town Hall can attest. Although positively rapid compared with the likes of Kate Bush or Peter Gabriel, Vega’s release schedule is somewhat sporadic with current release Tales from the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles her first album of new material for some seven years. The new music highlights Vega’s unique and earnest voice with her acoustic guitar matched against minimalist backing, strong melodies and lyrics of tarot, spirituality and other worldly realms. All of this is carried through into the live presentation with Vega supported only by guitarist Gerry Leonard who adds some layers of sonic texture to her music.

Suzanne-Vega---Tales-From-The-Realm-Of-The-Queen-Of-Pentacles-COOKCD600Personable and comfortable with her audience, Vega promises a selection of new songs, old songs and hits (“a very short section”) and the set duly begins with 1985 breakthrough hit ‘Marlene on the Wall’. Above all else this is an evening of poetic story-telling, whether the subject matter is one of summer romance (‘Gypsy’), life affirming decisions (‘The Queen and the Soldier’) or acts of unspeakable horror (‘Luka’). Vega’s voice has lost none of its charm and the new songs sit comfortably with the back catalogue, notably the trippy ‘Don’t Uncork what you Can’t Contain’ and raucous ‘I Never Wear White’, both of which maintain her reputation as being much more than an esoteric alternative folk singer. The jaunty arrangement of Tom’s Diner’ offers a new twist on the originals hip-hop remix and by the encore Vega is content to take requests even if this means temporarily forgetting the second verse of ‘Cracking’.

A welcome reminder that, while she may not be cranking out hit singles, Vega remains an artist in her prime, relevant and with plenty still to say.