Her An Evening Of New York Songs And Stories album is brought to life with unassuming warmth and homeliness
“Ladies and gentlemen, from New York city, please welcome Suzanne Vega” announces a voice from the Barbican darkness. It’s met with a powerful response from the crowd, understandably so given the two-year delayed, twice-rearranged nature of tonight’s show. Originally planned for May 2020 to coincide with the release of her An Evening Of New York Songs & Stories live album, tonight we get an abbreviated version that sees Vega chart her way through her back catalogue, in the process demonstrating how comfortable she is in her role of entertainer and storyteller.
“It’s a miracle!” she declares, taking to the stage and acknowledging the crowd finally in front of her before promptly launching into an immaculate version of Marlene On The Wall that catches out latecomers still entering the hall. It’s an impressively bold start, a classic case of ‘surprise the crowd by casually playing one of your most famous tracks first’.
The early stages see her embellish her songs with personal details, in particular stories that dwell on former (and current) romantic episodes. For example, the softly delivered poeticism of Freeze Tag is followed by an explanation of how it had been inspired by a date she went on in her college years (she ends by revealing she has now been married to that person for the last 16 years). The heart-meltingly pretty Gypsy, from her 1987 album Solitude Standing, continues the theme, documenting a relationship from her younger years with a man from Liverpool. They went their separate ways but the story is updated in the following song In Liverpool, amid a foregrounded, snaking melody provided by long term Vega associate Gerry Leonard on guitar.
She pivots away from personal anecdotes mid-set to play a run of New York-themed songs, smoothly transporting us across the Atlantic in the process. She tiptoes her way through an exquisite New York Is My Destination, all light vocal jazz fluidity, before Frank & Ava briefly sees a return to the theme of relationships, but this time focusing on two New York stalwarts, namely Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner.
She occasionally sports a top hat at various moments of the show, a small theatrical touch that adds to the distinct ‘evening of entertainment’ feel that runs throughout. There’s a sleek professionalism and composure on display, not to mention an unassuming warmth and homeliness, but the pairing of Left Of Center and I Never Wear White inject a little counter-balancing attitude.
She naturally keeps two fan favourites back until the end. Luka is three minutes of fleet-footed folk-pop that serves as a reminder of how innocent those early albums sounded and the sweetly flowing circular cadences of Tom’s Diner provide a suitably sparkling finale, showing how even though she’s an established, mainstream name her songs have a freshness, perhaps preserved through a lack of over exposure. The promise of a Spring tour in 2023 suggests her desire to share her music and stories is as strong as ever and based on tonight’s show they’ll no doubt find a receptive audience.