Suzanne Vega at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, San Francisco CA
I had an exciting one two punch of performing arts this week, following up Next to Normal with a live performance by singer songwriter Suzanne Vega. Interestingly, Vega appeared in a concert sponsored by my school, CIIS, although this was downplayed in some publicity material, and the CIIS Public Programs coordinator half jokingly referred to her as part of “North American World Music”, where the school is known for offering worldly music concerts. I thought I’d offer some ruminations here to continue the chronicling. I volunteered backstage for the event, and it was interesting for me to see the differences in live music and live theatre productions. It was also my first time inside the Palace of Fine Arts theatre space, although I had been there for a lobby event last year.
I was impressed by Vega’s assured mannerisms and confidence onstage. She displayed no trace of fatigue or tiredness singing some songs that must be incredibly familiar to her. She seemed to turn the familiarity to her advantage, closing the show with a particularly edgy take on her classic “Tom’s Diner“, backed by a tight supportive duo of electric guitar and bass players. Her music remains highly evocative and literate. I easily thought back to when I followed her material more closely around 2002-2004, listening to her songs in the rural landscapes of Massachusetts, Maine and other locations. Her onstage banter or storytelling was somewhat variable. Initially it seemed like she would be more terse, saying just “Thanks!” in a clipped tone of voice after some of her songs. But later she relaxed and told longer situation specific stories, including several anecdotes of previous trips to San Francisco.