Suzanne Vega Plays to Sold-Out Landmark

Singer-songwriter performs music from her entire catalogue in front of packed house

suzanne-vega-capture-v2It was a full house at Landmark on Main Street on Saturday night. Perhaps even more than a full house, as I noted an extra row of folding chairs set up in the balcony. And why shouldn’t it be? After all, the performer was Suzanne Vega, possibly the biggest name act to perform in our local venue.

Suzanne Vega’s first self-titled album was released in 1985, 25 long years ago. Since then, she’s released albums steadily every few years, the most recent being 2007’s “Beauty and Crime.” During the concert, she also announced that she will be releasing a “new album of old love songs” on Feb. 9, as part of a four-CD set of her entire catalogue.

Vega took the stage at 8:15, armed with her acoustic guitar and kept the audience enrapt for the next 75 minutes, playing songs spanning her entire career. Accompanying her were her long-time bassist, Mike Visceglia, and guitarist, Gerry Leonard. Her voice had lost none of its charm – it was as clear and clean as ever, ranging from whispery to plaintive. The arrangements were marvelous.

And no drummer? No problem. The bass and guitar often sounded like a four- or five-piece band. Both supporting musicians were beyond competent. Leonard’s playing in particular was tasteful and innovative, and he used every type of guitar effect, including a guitar synthesizer, to create various sounds including bells and orchestral strings.

Vega opened with two songs off her first album, “Marlena on the Wall” and “Small Blue Thing.” She preceded most of her songs with stories about them – what they were about, or their inspiration. Highlights were “Left of Center” (from the classic ’80s movie Pretty in Pink) performed with just vocals and some incredible bass work, and “Headshots” from 1996’s “Nine Objects of Desire.” The guitar and bass in “Headshots” was breathtakingly good.

Vega’s poetic songwriting style is worth mentioning. Her storytelling abilities are superb – covering everything from child abuse (“Luka”) to Homer’s The Odyssey (“Calypso”) to the story of Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner (“Frank and Ava”). And her musical styles range from bossa nova (“Caramel”) to a sort of punk (“Blood Makes Noise”) to quasi-rap (“Tom’s Diner”) — although the bulk of her songs are in the melodic female singer-songwriter vein.

She closed the show with arguably her two biggest hits – “Luka” and “Tom’s Diner.” I think they would have been better off saved for the encore, but she preferred to do two softer numbers, including “Calypso,” to end the evening. The enthusiastic audience was on its feet, cheering. Seventy-five minutes was way too short.