By Tania Fisher
The stylish Café Carlyle fills quickly with happy patrons whose eager anticipation only becomes heightened as they wait patiently for the arrival of their beloved elfish and youthful-voiced 80s pop-folk star, Suzanne Vega.
She was the serene, clean, and child-like voice in a time when ripped colored pantyhose, chunky bangles, and brightly colored teased hair were making its foreground into the standard exhibitionist-style dress code of the youth of the time. This understated young artist, new to the scene, stood out as being fresh and unique as she melodically narrated stories from an observational standpoint that were filled with quiet poetic feeling and romantic undertones.
Vega unobtrusively enters the room and steps onto her stage. The audience cheer for their heroine that represented the soft truthful inner thoughts that penetrated into our stolen quiet moments rarely found against the backdrop of an 80s era of rapidly developing technology and corporate greed.
It seems to take a moment to realize she’s here with us in this room, as she presents herself just as she always was, with time having passed seemingly without affect on her. She quenches our thirst instantly by opening with her 1985 hit “Marlene on the Wall.” The mood of the room shifts into that of adoration, and we find ourselves mouthing the words while our memory muscles fill our veins with the same emotion and tingles and misunderstood angst that those of us on the verge of teenage-hood were feeling when we first related to every word Vega gave us.
The petite framed Vega playfully grabs a Marlene Dietrich style top hat and places it on her head as a tribute to the late actress, then, when she completes the dedicated song, the audience release an appreciative applause.
Vega’s show is an honest and warm performance. She is comfortable within herself and moves freely with the music, while retaining a polished professional presentation of her work; always sending out her energy to the audience and ensuring she is inclusive of the room from every angle.
Vega makes a song seem like a spontaneous expression of her personality, and a sharing of her thoughts on a subject matter.
Vega performs favorites like “Luka” which was another popular song that brought her to prominence in the mid 80s.
Before each song she gives a sentence or two about its history and often the real life New York City location of where each song is set. One such ad lib moment before performing “Freeze Tag” has her revealing the walks she would take with her then husband-to-be, in Riverside Park in the middle of winter, now contemplating the innocent recklessness of wandering around a dark playground in the freezing cold, she remarks, “I just didn’t know it could be any other way.”
Her rendition of Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” is nothing short of spectacular and does wonderful justice to a fellow New York story teller. It’s always a great risk to cover a popular cult-hit song, yet Vega does so with relaxed confidence, very much making it her own.
Vega’s passion for the story of novelist Carson McCullers, that she explored and shared with such committed empathy in her 2011 show “Carson McCullers Talks About Love,” does not escape its own spotlight, with Vega providing a moving rendition of “New York is my Destination.”
Backed with a three piece band that includes; Gerry Leonard on acoustic and electric guitars and background vocals, Jamie Edwards on piano, Chamberlin strings, keyboards and background vocals, and Jeff Allen on upright bass, all combine to produce a full and rich sound, reminiscent of exactly the way the songs were originally heard when released. Vega’s voice has shown no wear. Suzanne Vega Sings Her New York Songs without loss of strength and she masterfully still manages to hit her high notes with an effortless ease. Her ability to skip and dance from one note to the other is probably her trademark sound that has certainly not lost any of its momentum or drive as she meets each one of them with unwavering accuracy.
When Vega performs the a capella 1987 minor hit “Tom’s Diner” (that subsequently became a remix smash hit) the audience transforms into a mass hypnotized state that if witnessed from a distance might be mistaken for a meeting of an occult group, but in reality are just mesmerized devotees of a sound and an unmistakable and unforgettable tune.
The charming and engaging Vega warmly and tangibly tells our story, she tells every-man’s story; she tells the New York City story. If you weren’t in love with our city already, you will be after this show.
Photos: David Andrako
Suzanne Vega Sings Her New York Songs at The Carlyle
The Carlyle, 35 E76th Street
Run Time: 1 hour 5 mins – March 5 thru 16