EAST VILLAGE, NY—Suzanne Vega grew up in Spanish Harlem and the Upper West Side and began to write poetry at the age of nine. She picked up a guitar at age 11 and wrote her first song at 14. She later majored in English literature at Barnard College by day and began performing in the Greenwich Village folk revival circuit by night. Vega had an international hit with a song from her second album, Solitude Standing, “Luka,” which she wrote from the point of view of an abused child. The a cappella “Tom’s Diner” from this album was later a hit, remixed by two British dance producers under the name DNA, in 1990. Since then, some of Vega’s albums introduced industrial sounds to her folk roots and became more critics’ favorites than commercial successes. Vega’s eighth album, Tales From The Realm Of The Queen Of Pentacles, is her first new studio album in seven years, and will be available on Feb. 18.
Vega performed a 45-minute set at Chez Andre on Jan. 20, introducing eight songs from her forthcoming album and revisiting three older songs. Accompanied by Gerry Leonard on guitar, she opened with “Marlene On The Wall,” an oblique autobiographical song about coping with loneliness and finding comfort by looking at a poster of Marlene Dietrich on the wall. Vega then performed eight of the 10 songs from her forthcoming album, pretty much in order, and closed with “Luka” and “Tom’s Diner.” Vega sang the songs in her trademark soft and vibrato-less voice. She did not bare the emotions of her heart, but rather her lyrics made her appear as if she were an old world philosopher trying to explain the workings of the world from her poetic perspective.
Meanwhile, Leonard did the experimental work, starting Vega’s songs by playing a bassline or rhythm on his guitar, capturing it on the electronic gear by his shoes and then playing lead guitar lines over the just-recorded backtrack. Leonard’s feet pushed an array of buttons as much as his fingers played the guitar. This sometimes led to an eerie effect. Vega has never stayed within the safety zone, however, and her presentation tonight furthered her unique modernization of the traditional singer-songwriter folk genre.
For more information on Suzanne Vega, go to suzannevega.com.