Opera House, Wellington
Wednesday, August 8
For her New Zealand shows it was just Suzanne Vega and long-serving bassist Mike Visceglia. I say just because it was the full band that performed in Australia, at wonderful shows celebrating the respective 30th and 25th anniversaries of the Solitude Standing and 99.9F Degrees albums.
But to see and hear Vega – and a back-catalogue run of hits and deep album cuts, just her voice and guitar with Visceglia’s bass standing in at various times for lead guitar, keyboards and percussion as well as, obviously, providing the bottom end – was no silver medal. This show was very different from the one I saw in Sydney, and just as there are apples and there are oranges, with a week or two between there’s no aftertaste to taint, they are simply enjoyed as different, separate experiences.
The glue – the reason – is Suzanne Vega. Her voice. Her songs.
And so it was to rapturous applause that Vega and Visceglia took the stage and straight to the 1985 debut album and her very first hit, Marlene On The Wall – for fans that had waited 25 years since her last trip to New Zealand, and for many possibly a lot longer than that, it was all there – instantly. The voice, unchanged. The guitar lines, the warmth of the bass in support, buoying the tune. From there a leap forward to the creamy-dreamy Caramel from 1996’s Nine Objects of desire. And then straight back to the debut for the forever-beguiling Small Blue Thing.
These three songs could have been the encore. And the applause from fans showed that everyone in attendance knew that. We were in for more treats.
The songs Gypsy (Solitude Standing) and In Liverpool (99.9) are linked, Vega offers explanation ahead of each song with stories detailing the connection.
Blood Makes Noise, part of her industrial makeover for the 99.9 album works well in its solo reading – just Visceglia’s bass fuzz and Vega’s voice. Same goes for Left of Centre, originally riding on a Joe Jackson piano line, as used in the movie Pretty in Pink. Here it was just Visceglia creating the music – channelling rhythm and melody in(to) one fluid movement.
The joyous Horizon (There Is a Road) from 2014’s Tales from The Real of the Queen of Pentacles is the only ‘new’ song – but maybe (I’ll Never Be) Your Maggie May from 2001’s Songs in Red and Gray is new to many, it’s also a highlight, not just by virtue of its pretty melody but again the pre-song banter – it being a response to Rod Stewart’s famous song – helps to set it up in the hearts and minds.
From the debut album Some Journey stands resplendent – for me it was the highlight of the show, but that’s largely for personal, nostalgic/sentimental reasons and the genuine surprise of its inclusion.
And the set is completed with Vega’s biggest hits, Luka and Tom’s Diner. The latter is started in its trademark a capella – again, the voice remarkable, to think of the breath-control, the spacing, placing and pacing of the lyrics, the perfect lyric/vocal – exquisite phrasing. And then Visceglia enters, recreating aspects of the DNA remix. It was an upbeat way to finish.
A class act, a wonderful selection – there was nothing but poise and grace and songs so well written, the talent and skill undeniable.
Returning to encore with Calypso and then the sublime Rosemary. And the standing ovation told the tale from the fans’ point of view. As close to perfect as is achievable.