In the mid-1980s Suzanne Vega was a big thing with three top ten hits and, in 1989, she became the first female artist to headline the Glastonbury Festival. Female singer/songwriters – the likes of Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Jackie DeShannon and Laura Nyro – made a significant contribution to popular music through the 60’s and 70’s. In the following decade Kate Bush and Cindy Lauper were important and original singer/songwriters of quality pop but there was a certain less poppy zeitgeist abroad in the 80’s which encompassed, among others, Joan Armatrading, Tracy Chapman and, on a more avant-garde level, Laurie Anderson, which promoted songs with a social conscience and awareness. Vega’s song Luka broached a subject which was rarely talked about, let alone being the subject of a hit song.
Since then Vega’s name has perhaps not been heard so much, only having released four albums since 1996, the last one being in 2016. But Ms Vega is a woman with more than one string to her bow. She has written lyrics for Philip Glass and narrated performances of his Einstein on the Beach, her songs have featured on the soundtrack of many films including The Truth About Cats and Dogs and Dead Man Walking and she co-wrote a play about Carson McCullers and has appeared in off-Broadway plays. So, as you see, she has never been far away. Perhaps it is this diversity which accounts for the fact that her profile is a little lower. Diversity is a wonderful and satisfying thing for an artist but can be a little confusing for their followers.
But now Suzanne Vega is back in Europe on tour and appeared in The Hague as part of the Zuiderpark Live strand, hot foot from Glastonbury where she appeared last weekend. Performing with Irishman Gerry Leonard on electric guitar to compliment her own acoustic guitar she defies her nearly sixty-three years by looking, at least from Row F, exactly the same.
Of course, all the old songs and top hat were there, starting with Marlene on the Wall, as she worked her way through her back catalogue. Mr Leonard provided some classy guitar work, as he had done for David Bowie, and his contribution to I Never Wear White from Vega’s 2014 album Tales from the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles was almost heavy metal. Ms Vega’s two biggest hits were saved for the end with Tom’s Diner accompanied by the lone electric guitar giving her the opportunity to go for a bit of a stroll around the stage as she sang. Luka is a great song and has stood the test of time as all good songs do. For an encore she paid tribute to her friend, the late great Lou Reed, with her own version of Walk on the Wild Side.
I was a big fan of Suzanne Vega back in the day and after seeing her again tonight realise that I still am.
The support act was Dutch singer/songwriter Celine Cairo who sang nice enough songs in English to get us all in the mood.
This is the first time we have been to the beautiful Zuiderparktheater and there is no better way to spend a warm summer evening. It has a full programme of events in all musical genres in the summer’s Zuiderpark Live strand and we shall be covering some more of them over the next few weeks. Michael Hasted 29th June 2022