Suzanne Vega Returns to Landmark on Main

Debut album celebrates 30th anniversary this year

It’s been over five years since Suzanne Vega’s first performance at Landmark on Main Street (and my first review!) and the wait for her return has, for some of us, been way too long. But that day finally arrived on May 31st, and even torrential thunderstorms couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm.

WFUV’s John Platt introduced Vega, and noted that it has been a shocking thirty years since she released her first self-titled album. You’d never know it from looking at or listening to the performer who truly is better than ever. Vega is one of those performers who very kindly gives you insight into the inspiration behind their songwriting. She prefaced almost every song with a brief story of its conception.

The songwriting is rich and highly personal, and Vega has a way of storytelling by song, capturing fine details in her lyrics.

11196311_10200503012935174_7770200372249163433_nA particular favorite of mine was the story of a Marlene Dietrich poster in a young Suzanne Vega’s bedroom inspiring the song “Marlene on the Wall.” “I had two posters on my wall,” Vega told the audience, “Marlene Dietrich and Sting. Clearly ‘Marlene on the Wall’ worked better than the alternative.”

Vega earns a well-deserved hat tip for her excellent songwriting ability – both lyrical and musical. And while her vocal range isn’t huge, she makes the most of it and her distinctive voice, in her songwriting. The songwriting is rich and highly personal, and Vega has a way of storytelling by song, capturing fine details in her lyrics. Her Landmark show Included great examples of that storytelling, particularly in the crowd favorites, “Luka,” “Tom’s Diner,” and “The Queen and the Soldier.”

Vega performed with only one backing musician, but oh, what a musician he is. Gerry Leonard, who recently arranged David Bowie’s latest album, is Vega’s longtime backup musician and appeared with her at her 2010 Landmark on Main Street performance as well this one. Leonard is a spectacular musician, who, using digital effects, manages to create the sound of an entire backing band – from rhythm (by looping the sound of him tapping his guitar) to synthesizer sounds – all on the guitar. I have had the good fortune of seeing Leonard as a backing musician for both Vega and singer/songwriter Duncan Sheik on several occasions and Leonard never ceases to impress with his spot-on solos and tasteful fills. And the guy truly works hard – there was no smiling at the audience or casual looking around – Leonard was generally doing 15 things at once and providing Vega with a sound that some four-piece bands would envy.

Some standout numbers by Vega included the smoky bossa nova “Caramel,” the delicate and ethereal “Small Blue Thing,” and my favorite, “Left of Center,” from the soundtrack of 80’s teen movie Pretty in Pink. A newer song, “Jacob and the Angel,” described by Vega as being about struggle, was noteworthy and had a superb guitar solo. Before playing another highlight, “I Never Wear White,” Vega imitated her teen daughter who told her “Mom, you’re so EMO!” because of Vega’s penchant for black, even at the beach.

Vega closed the show with an up-tempo version of “Tom’s Diner” before returning for encores, including an audience request for “Undertow.” I join the rest of the audience in hoping that we don’t have to wait another five years for Suzanne Vega to return to Port Washington!

Next and final show of the Landmark season is Jessie Mueller and Jarrod Spector on June 14th.

Image credits: Steven Sandick