Gig Review and Photography by John Bentley

Suzanne Vega, Birmingham Town Hall, 3 Feb 2014

Despite being widely known for early career hits like ‘Luka’ and ‘Tom’s Diner’, Suzanne Vega is a confident and evolving artist who doesn’t rest on past glories. Tonight at the Town Hall she presents us with copious chunks of her previously unheard new album, as well as serving up old favourites for her adoring audience.

Support tonight comes from British singer-songwriter Natasha North. With the help of a single guitarist she delivers a set of fragile sounding songs, discussing relationships and, sometimes, challenging subject matter.

Natasha North, Birmingham Town Hall, 3 Feb 2014

Suzanne Vega takes the stage, looking slender and youthful, and elegantly dressed in a suit and top hat, which she soon discards. She kicks off with her classic ‘Marlene on the Wall’, from the 1985 debut album, where a portrait of Marlene Dietrich looks down on the men passing through the narrator’s life. Sensitive and intelligent songs like this helped made her a Joni Mitchell for the 1980s. This is followed by the contrastingly laid-back Latin-style ‘Caramel’. The quiet audience politely applaud, perhaps relieved to hear these familiar songs delivered, more or less, as they were on the original recordings.

Suzanne Vega, Birmingham Town Hall, 3 Feb 2014

The next song, ‘Fools Complaint’, is the first tonight from the new album, ‘Tales from the Realms of the Queen of Pentacles’ (no, it’s not a 1970s prog-rock concept album by Rick Wakeman). Indeed by the end of the evening she performs more than half of the record. It turns out that it is released this very day and copies are, of course, available in CD and vinyl formats in the foyer. This is the fourth date of the tour and Vega explains that the setlist is still evolving. Among the new songs, the intriguingly titled ‘Don’t Uncork What You Can’t Contain’ sounds particularly impressive on first hearing, with a clapping rhythm and rappy narrative vocal.

Suzanne Vega, Birmingham Town Hall, 3 Feb 2014

On the face of it this is a stripped-back show, with just Vega and guitarist Jerry Leonard on a largely empty stage with minimal equipment. However, Leonard demonstrates that he is a one-man orchestra, with his skilful and varied use of the guitar and effects pedals on songs like ‘Jacob and the Angel’. On ‘The Queen and the Soldier’ his chiming acoustic 12-string makes it sound like The Byrds are backing Ms Vega.

Suzanne Vega, Birmingham Town Hall, 3 Feb 2014

Suzanne Vega is chatty tonight giving us quite a bit of background to many of her old and new songs. ‘Gypsy’, she explains was written about her first big romance, where she and her beau bonded over Leonard Cohen records at a Summer camp. She endearingly forgets to start singing at the right point in ‘Left of Centre’, demonstrating that while she is a polished performer, thankfully she is not over-slick.

The set ends with two real classics. ‘Luka’, her song about child abuse, has a beautiful and delicate tune, with restrained lyrics that make their meaning in a subtle way without preaching. Ending on a lighter note, Vega puts the top hat back on and steps out across the stage, treating us to the singalong hit ‘Tom’s Diner’, which is delivered in the manner of the 1990 remix (by DNA), with great guitar effects from Jerry Leonard.

Suzanne Vega, Birmingham Town Hall, 3 Feb 2014

For the encore, Vega explains that she is appearing on Jules Holland’s Radio programme tomorrow and he wants her to do a cover song. So she is going to practice Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ with us. Rather late on in the evening, the extremely sober seated audience seems to loosen up and come to life at this point. You get the feeling Ms Vega would have liked a bit more interaction and participation. ‘Wild Side’ proves a hit with the crowd, although the arrangement lacks the shuffle-along charm of the original. The familiar-to-fans song, ‘Rosemary’, marks the end of a rather magical evening, with a great mix of old and new material, and Vega’s voice sounding immaculate throughout.

Setlist: Marlene on the Wall; Caramel; Fool’s Complaint; Crack in the Wall; Jacob and The Angel; Small Blue Thing; Gypsy; The Queen and the Soldier; Don’t Uncork What You Can’t Contain; Song of the Stoic; Solitude Standing; Left of Centre; I Never Wear White; Luka; Tom’s Diner. Encore: Walk on the Wild Side; Horizon (There Is a Road); Cracking; Rosemary

2 Responses to “Suzanne Vega + Natasha North at Birmingham Town Hall, UK – 3rd February 2014”

  1. Gig Reviews | Gig Photography | Interviews | Competitions from Gig Junkies » Blog Archive » Suzanne Vega Returns to the UK with Her ‘Never Wear White Tour’ Says:

    […] Monday 3rd February – Birmingham Town Hall – 0121 780 3333 – Check out our coverage of this gig. […]

  2. Ken Harrison Says:

    Cracking review and pics John :-)

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