“You know what we’re gonna do,” begins Suzanne Vega. It’s an unlikely assumption from a singer-songwriter who’s spent her career being capricious, going from the saviour of bedsit folk to unlikely dance star courtesy of DNA’s remix of ‘Tom’s Diner’.
Tonight, however, the New Yorker is making a virtue out of predictability by playing in full her 1987 album Solitude Standing and 1992’s 99.9F°. Such anniversary tours have become standard nostalgia fare but they can be a useful way in which to re-appraise an artist.
Vega plays it straight, with arrangements left largely untouched, which sometimes works to her detriment. Breakthrough hits ‘Luka’, a haunting tale of child abuse, and ‘Marlene On The Wall’, for which she dons a Dietrich-style top hat, remain classic cuts of folk-pop.
Time has been somewhat less favourable to her fuller band arrangements. The booming drums on ‘Wooden Horse (Caspar Hauser’s Song)’, which is introduced as a tribute to both Peter Gabriel and the titular feral child, revive nightmares about Phil Collins. The more industrial cuts from 99.9F°, such as ‘Blood Makes Noise’, have also turned anaemic over the years.
These later cuts do demonstrate greater maturity and experimentation in songwriting, with increased use of rock dynamics, but behind the arrangements she emerged fully formed in the coffee houses of 1980s Greenwich Village. ‘Gypsy’, which she wrote when still a teenager, already has the literate perception that became her hallmark.
It’s an intelligence that she wears lightly while introducing the audience to the work of The Odyssey (the cymbal wash of ‘Calypso’), poet Paul Éluard (‘Night Vision’), and biblical characters (the sentiment behind the hard-edged ‘Rock In This Pocket (Song Of David)’ is pertinent for #MeToo, she notes).
This stance may have increasingly placed her ‘Left Of Center’ - which she reworks with just bassist Michael Visceglia - but it’s probably where she’s happiest.