SUZANNE VEGA is back with a new album and a new tour. Kicking off the Never Wear White Tour in Manchester, she’s also heading to five other cities across the UK to promote Tales From The Realm Of The Queen Of Pentacles (out now on her own label Amanuensis Productions), marking her first studio album of new material in seven years, described as “a collection of ten songs, each telling a story on how the material world and spiritual world both intersect.”
Yes, it’s hard to believe that it’s been that long since Suzanne had her last album out (aside from the re-recordings), but time has flown, and we’re all here again, tucked into the stunning venue that is the Bridgewater Hall. I can’t think of anything more heart-warming than listening to the prolific California-born New York-raised artist performing live on a wintery night in the rainy city. We last caught Suzanne at York’s Grand Opera House less than two years ago, and there was certainly a buzz in the air. But, the buzz is nothing compared to tonight, when her fans are waiting with baited breath to hear the new tracks as well as the old classics of course.
Not many working artists enjoy a steady international fanbase for life, but Suzanne is one of the few, as people of all backgrounds and accents gather in sweet anticipation under the same roof, many loyal since 1985 upon the release of her self-titled debut album, some eager to see her live for the first time having only recently discovered her. Not only one of the most incredible poets and performers of our time, she also keeps herself engaged in social causes, tonight helping to raise awareness for CASA ALIANZA, a South American charity set up to help give children forced to live on the streets a brighter future. Suzanne Vega is, in short, a highly productive living-breathing role-model artist, and an extremely humble one at that.
Preceded by UK warm-up act Natasha North, it’s not long before Suzanne and guitarist Gerry Leonard arrive onstage to rapturous applause (the respect emanating from the floor is tangible), as she takes a literal hop to the front and duly flips out her dapper top hat, popping it on her head while thanking the audience. Dressed in her characteristic black trouser suit and thin scarf casually draped, Suzanne seems delighted to look out towards the sea of faces as she goes straight into the much-loved Marlene On The Wall. Time stands still as I let the perfect sounds and words waft over me – it feels completely fresh and I get butterflies just like the first time I heard the classic homage to silver screen legend Dietrich, who no doubt has long served as a visual and spiritual inspiration for Vega.
Next up, the haunting Caramel (Suzanne reminds us that the song is indeed not about dessert…) and new track Jacob And The Angel (she confesses that she’s still learning it, producing a lyric sheet) are then followed by the brilliantly fragile Small Blue Thing – and in one tiny moment, as the familiar guitar strokes chime in, the atmosphere of the venue is shattered into pieces of intimate paralysis as both stage and audience are bathed in a blue glow. It’s a moment I shall not soon forget.
After introducing more songs off the new album, we’re greeted by the adorable Gypsy, which she introduces as a song she wrote for a lad when she was 18, explaining that she has had three British boyfriends: one from Liverpool (audience whoops), one from London (boos), and one from Manchester (roars), the latter whom she was with for a grand five years, it seems. After the spellbinding The Queen And The Soldier, she’s back into the present day with the epic Don’t Uncork What You Can’t Contain (“You can imagine how long it took to me to learn that!”) and the beautiful Song Of The Stoic, the ‘sequel’ if you like to Luka, with lyrics that reach right in and grab your heart. Laying On Of Hands is a catchy song, inspired by the conviction shown by Mother Teresa, Suzanne hinting in a recent interview that it’s also a comment on police activity during the Occupy Wall Street Movement.
The delicate Left Of Centre is followed by edgy tour title track I Never Wear White which induces a few giggles from the audience into the first few lines (“I never wear white / White is for virgins… My color is black black black / Black is for secrets / outlaws and dancers / for the poet of the dark.”). A member of the audience doesn’t hold back in requesting Luka, while Suzanne promptly obliges with a polite “I will do that.” Tear-inducing, the tender rendition is a strong reminder of how earth-shattering this song still is. But, Suzanne can’t wait to get onto the massive Tom’s Diner, as she smiles and pops her top hat back on for this one. The mood of the venue transitions as we are at once drawn into the looping musical combinations provided by Gerry and Suzanne heads to the edges of the stage spinning her lyrical beat magic over the crowd, demonstrating her versatility and passion to evolve and diversify. People are waving their arms, clicking fingers, humming and singing along.
A short break is followed by the powerful Solitude Standing, and closes with the gorgeous Rosemary which aptly rounds off the night (“And all I know of you is in my memory / And all I ask is you remember me.”). Together with the excellent Gerry, Suzanne take a deep bow and thanks us again – one of the most generous performers in the world, she takes nothing for granted. We shan’t be forgetting you anytime soon, Suzanne, especially now that the world has a new volume of songs to appreciate.