Saturday, November 17, 2007

Suzanne Vega

Last night, we went to San Juan Capistrano's Coach House, an intimate concert venue that's been around for many years, to experience Suzanne Vega.

We've been fans of hers for about 15 years, and I think we first discovered her when we were in England and saw vivid posters of her newly released album "99.9 Degrees." Upon our return, we visited a favorite place of ours, the CD Listening Bar, where we sat at a counter and freely listenened to any CDs they had in stock, many of which were used and inexpensive. After hearing her work, we stocked up on several of her albums and have kept current with them ever since.

Last night was the second time we saw her perform at the Coach House--she paid a visit there 5 years ago. But I think last night's performance may have been the better of the two. Her new album, "Beauty & Crime," came out in July, and is characteristic of her eclecticism while at the same time exploring a theme: life in post-9/11 New York City.

The concert was bookended by two versions of her signature song, "Tom's Diner," which is about Tom's Restaurant on Broadway and 112th Street. Most people know it as the place where the Seinfeld gang congregate, and the TV show frequently included an exterior establishing shot of the place. When I attended Columbia University, I ate there hundreds of times -- mostly for their 99 cent breakfast. Vega wrote and recorded the song in 1981, long before Seinfeld came on the air, by the way. Upon her entrance, she launched into her solo a cappella version of the song, inviting the audience to join in humming between the verses--which we all did. At the conclusion of the concert, she offered a juiced up take on it with her band, ambushing us all--then chastised us at the end for not having sung along.

Vega has a comfortable, breezy on stage persona, and fielded with great aplomb the numerous song requests called out to her by attendees (only one of which she played, as an encore). She said she was flattered to hear the suggestions and that, yes, she actually "remembered" some of those songs. One suggestion surprised her; she said there was no way she was doing it, but promised to offer it the next time she came back to the Coach House--after rehearsing it!

The concert was a fairly equal mix of songs from "Beauty & Crime" and her previous work. Most of the older songs were delivered in new renditions; for example, "Left of Center," her famous song from the film "Pretty in Pink." Instead of leaning on its sing-songy quality with full back up as it appears on the recording I have (a live album), Vega sang it accompanied only by her skilled bass player. She imposed an unnatural staccato syncopation to it, demonstrating it's just as great a song when played against "type."

She left us wanting more, which isn't a bad thing.

Until next time...


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