Isn’t it one of the best feelings in the world when an artist that you have adored for decades ends up being better than the great reviews you have read or heard before? They are so exceptional that I’m left quite ‘happily floating’ for days afterwards. Although only ten years old at the time, I was, like many, obsessed with ‘Marlene On The Wall’. I’m so happy the time has finally arrived and I will see this fabulous woman live. I was quite envious of the lovely fan sitting next to me who told me she has seen Suzanne Vega five times and counting. I’m thankful to witness this very glorious and enchanting performance at the Enmore Theatre in Sydney on Saturday night. I was hoping for great but ended up floating away with brilliant!
The Enmore was heaving once I arrived, barely a seat to spare, and we had a splendid Deborah Conway and Willy Zygeir support set to start our evening. Another great performer, Conway’s voice hasn’t changed in decades either. What is this sorcery? Frozen in time? Always impressive, is our national Aussie icon, and a perfectly suited support for Vega. I was so happy sitting back and relishing this night of musical talent, being taken away by these painted visual lyrics and sublime guitars. All that was missing was a nice mug of hot chocolate and marshmallows.
Not knowing what to expect, and anticipating a show I have looked forward to for many years, I couldn’t wait for Vega to hit the stage. Diving right in, she did an acapella rendition of the first recorded version of ‘Tom’s Diner’, which is captivating to say the least, and my gosh, Vega’s voice! It could be the late 80’s, her tone and delivery is exactly the same. There’s something about live music which cannot be beaten, when an artist gives such a clean, deep and fresh performance, it actually sounds better to me than the recorded versions – that are perfect themselves – but Vega’s live ‘Luka’, which was up next, was just that, a level beyond. I actually couldn’t pick a track that wasn’t flawless, the acoustics at the Enmore suited this great band and unique voice, absolutely. The genius storytelling of Vega continues with tracks like ‘Ironbound’, ‘In The Eye’ and ‘Solitude Standing’. They are all so vivid and atmospheric, it feels quite dreamlike hearing these songs live. All stirring emotions, intertwining with power and subtlety. ‘Language’ and ‘Wooden Horse’ are, once again, so eerily delicious, and then we move into some more eclectic styles with ‘Rock In This Pocket’ and ‘Blood Makes Noise’.
Vega’s cool and effortless singing is so alluring that I can’t help comparing each song, as we move through the setlist, and being blown away each time. With young love, the inspiration behind ‘Gypsy’, and then some more 99.9F* album tracks, ‘99.9F*’ and ‘Fat Man And Dancing Girl’, it was a pleasure to hear Vega relay some of the stories behind many of her songs in between this musical smorgasbord. I have read in the past ‘So ahead of her time is this woman’ and I have to say I totally agree. We are so starved of real talent in this day and age (or it’s just constantly suppressed by all the garbage being forced on to the public) but at least we are fortunate to have true artists like Vega to relish. Such an inspiration for any songwriter and musician, I would think studying her work would be an interesting and fulfilling task. ‘In My Movie’ and ‘Bad Wisdom’ are next. This particular style that Vega has, at times it feels like you could be in any venue, anywhere in the world, during any decade, and it all just works, it’s very transcendental. The layering and depth of her songs give this essence of cross fusing poetry, theatre, movies and even street or performance art. I hope I can convey that well enough into words but I suggest you go see her live to understand what I’m trying to convey.
As we move towards rounding out our magical main set with ‘When Heroes Go Down’ and ‘As Girls Go’, Vega glides across the stage and becomes more animated, donning her top hat before disappearing. The Enmore erupts into screams of ‘more! more!’ It has been an appreciative and absorbed crowd, incredibly emotive with many shouts of ‘we love you, Suzanne’ peppered throughout our evening, and numerous requests for songs from those eager to have their favourites appear on tonight’s set list. It was easy to gauge the profound meaning that Vega’s music has on her loyal devotees. It was intense and very moving.
I was yet to hear my childhood obsession but held faith as the haunting and heavenly ‘The Queen And The Soldier’ began our encore, with imagery unfolding of passion and power, love and death. Vega’s songs are all so beautifully composed with those divine lyrics and guitars. I could barely breathe, it was so fierce. The audience was mesmerised. Thank God ‘Marlene On The Wall’ snapped me out of my momentary trance. Ahhhh, I could be ten again! You never forget the first time you hear certain songs, and this is one of those for me. A perfect indentation that is permanently made on that young little mind, my 80’s self wanted to jump up and shout, but I had to compose myself and inhale as much as I could before another gem ‘Left Of Center’ began. A gorgeous voice, and bass only version, it was another delightful memory from one of my favourite movies of all time ‘Pretty In Pink’. It was an era when soundtracks, Andrew McCarthy and Molly Ringwald ruled. I couldn’t believe how many amazing tunes we were gifted tonight, this really was a master lesson in all things vocal, musical and lyrical. And of course the DNA version of ‘Tom’s Diner’ was our last cherry on top, with some audience members dancing in the side aisles, unable to contain themselves any longer.
Even though Vega focused primarily on albums ‘Solitude Standing’ and ’99.9F*’ on this anniversary tour, it just shows how much of a rich catalogue Vega has, that there are so many other songs that we were all dreaming would make the cut. I’m so thoroughly satisfied, it’s almost as though I was submerged into some musical fantasy and can now function that much better once in reality. I would even say that I’ve been a little ‘giddy’ since Saturday night. What a talented, witty and classy lady you are Suzanne Vega. What a privilege to finally hear and see you here after waiting so long. Absolute bliss! And if you haven’t been out to see Ms Vega yet, I cannot stress enough that this is one show you need to add to your list.
© MARINA KNEZEVIC 2018. All Rights Reserved
Photography by Anna Bartle @ rockchique.net
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