LIVE REVIEW: Suzanne Vega performs an expansive but intimate set in Ithaca, New York
Posted on September 19, 2014 | by Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers
Onstage Thursday night at the Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, New York, Suzanne Vega gave a shout-out to Fall Out Boy for taking her little a cappella ditty “Tom’s Diner,” first released 30 years ago, to number 4 on the week’s download charts. The rockers wove bits of “Tom’s Diner” into their new song “Centuries,” joining a long list of “Tom’s Diner” samplers that include DNA, R.E.M., Ludacris, and 2Pac.
Vega’s latest version of “Tom’s Diner,” performed with Gerry Leonard looping funky scratches and bass riffs on electric guitar, served as the main set’s climax—right after her other extremely unlikely pop hit, “Luka,” which brought the narrative of an abused child to No. 3 on the charts in 1987. Back then, Vega sounded like no one else on the scene, with her super-soft vocal delivery and vivid literary language, and the same is true in 2014. Her music is a one-woman genre.
Vega’s set mixed some material from her latest album,Tales from the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles,with older gems like “Marlene on the Wall,” “Small Blue Thing,” and “The Queen and the Soldier.” She introduced “Gypsy,” written when she was 18, with an extended story about her days as a “folk-singing and disco-dancing camp counselor” in the Adirondacks. Of the new songs, standouts included the rocking “I Never Wear White” and the dreamy “Jacob and the Angel,” accompanied by Leonard’s highly nuanced layering of sounds.
I remember seeing Vega live back in her commercial heyday in big venues, and though she fleshed out her sound with a full band for the occasion, the music always seemed a little out of place. At its core, Vega’s style is intimate, and the small theater atmosphere in Ithaca was ideal for it. With Gerry Leonard adding all sorts of textures over Vega’s precise acoustic picking (and also allowing her to focus solely on vocals on a number of songs), the sound was expansive without drowning out Vega’s singular voice.
Her tour continues through November around the U.S.