Tag Archives: Suzanne Vega

Rocks In The Attic #704: Suzanne Vega – ‘Solitude Standing’ (1987)

RITA#704Living in the arse-end of the world, there are a number of things you just have to get used to. New Zealand are unlikely to ever host the World Cup, but on the other hand we’re probably likely to survive nuclear armageddon (if it ever happens). Give and take; rough with the smooth.

The other thing is that we’re quite easy to forget about when musicians and bands are planning their world tour itineraries. Sure, we get a whole heap of bands touring here – we’re an attractive destination to tour during the northern hemisphere’s winter – but there are always a number of artists who overlook our small islands.

One of those guilty of this is New York singer songwriter Suzanne Vega. She played in Auckland a couple of weeks ago, the first time here in a staggering twenty five years. It was almost that long ago since I saw her last at Glastonbury ’99 – one of my top five gigs of all time – and so I wasn’t going to miss seeing her again. Premium tickets put us five rows from the front, in Auckland’s fantastic Bruce Mason Centre.

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Lisa Crawley (Photo credit: Chris Zwaagdyk)

Support came from local singer songwriter Lisa Crawley. Self-accompanied on piano, she was well suited to Vega’s audience with a set-list of quirky love songs (her closing song imagined herself being the wedding singer at her ex’s wedding). My wife liked her so much, she went out to the foyer during the intermission and bought her CD.

Vega started her set Marlene On The Wall, getting her first big hit out of the way. The setlist focused on material from her eponymous debut, follow-up Solitude Standing, and fourth album 99.9F°. Between-song banter was great, with one particularly funny anecdote reflecting on the annoyance of Bono.

Backed by bass player Mike Visceglia, it was the same minimalist set-up (acoustic guitar and electric bass) as I saw at Glastonbury ’99.  There’s a wonderfully ethereal quality to Vega’s voice. It’s so rich, she almost sounds as though she’s harmonising with herself. The jovial Visceglia just looks happy to be along for the ride – he’s been playing with her since 1985.

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(Photo credit: Chris Zwaagdyk)

While I enjoyed the intimate feel of the gig, it’s the second time I’ve seen her play in this format. Hopefully she’ll bring her full band if she makes it back to New Zealand in the next twenty five years.

While the audience was mostly reserved, one incident near the end of the night really made me chuckle. Hearing Vega playing the opening chords of Luca, one middle-aged lady on the end of the first row jumped up, clapped her hands, and started dancing. “This is the one,” she was probably thinking. “Songs about child-abuse are my jam!”

Hit: Luca

Hidden Gem: Ironbound / Fancy Poultry

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Rocks In The Attic #353: Suzanne Vega – ‘Suzanne Vega’ (1985)

RITA#353Suzanne Vega has to be one of my favourite memories from my first Glastonbury in 1999, probably one of my favourite memories from all of my trips to the festival.

On the Friday night, our circle of friends had finally all found each other – this was just before mobile phones became ubiquitous, so we had spent all the time on the site up to that point simply looking out for each other. We finally all met up near the Other Stage just after the Super Furry Animals’ set. From that point we at least knew where each other was camping, so we had a vague idea of where we might find each other.

Late in the afternoon on the Sunday, slightly fatigued by watching too many bands I walked over to find Paul and Kaj’s tent over in the field overlooking the Pyramid Stage. I actually walked past Lenny Kravitz playing the Pyramid Stage – something I really regret, as I’m probably never going to get chance to see him play again.

I finally found their tent – they were inside playing Top Trumps. Without any firm plans of my own, I agreed to get some food with Paul and finish the festival off by seeing Suzanne Vega headline the Acoustic Tent.

I didn’t really know anything by Vega at this point – other than the radio-friendly singles like Luca and Marlene On The Wall – so I was effectively a blank slate. She walked on stage to a huge cheer, and played the whole set on an acoustic guitar, flanked only by a lone bassist. She didn’t wear a bullet-proof vest this time though – 10 years earlier, she became the first female headliner of the festival, dressed in a bullet-proof vest as she (and her bass player) had received death threats.

To say that the audience was appreciative that night is an understatement. I’m sure the choice of artist helped, but the mood in the tent was just really chilled out, and it was a great way to wind down the festival. In all my repeat visits to the festival, I don’t think I ever enjoyed a Sunday night headliner as much.

Some years I missed the headliners altogether, and just went back to my tent to sleep. That’s another source of regret, when I missed Muse’s Sunday night headlining slot in 2004. When the rest of my friends returned to out campsite – friends who weren’t Muse fans, like I was – and told me how good it was, I couldn’t stop kicking myself. The show was so good – apparently – that even the drummer’s father had a heart attack!

Hit: Marlene On The Wall

Hidden Gem: Cracking

Rocks In The Attic #200: Radiohead – ‘The Bends’ (1995)

RITA#200The 200th post in this blog celebrates an album that is probably more important to the development of my musical tastes than any other album in my collection.

In the early ‘90s, when I discovered music for myself – and discovered bands like Aerosmith and AC/DC (that I couldn’t care less if other people liked or not) – I was very much into rock music. I naively thought all other genres of music were a waste of time. I either liked contemporary rock, or classic rock, with a touch of metal and grunge thrown in for good measure.

I then went to University, joined the Rock Society club and found other like-minded people. The rest of the time, I would be drinking in pubs with my classmates, usually dressed in an AC/DC or Led Zeppelin t-shirt, with my shoulder-length long hair; and my classmates would be dressed like normal people. Ugh, who wants to be normal people?

Around this time, and from the time I started listening to music, Indie and Britpop were my enemy. This is partly the fault of the hype surrounding Oasis, and partly the fault of those normal people all around me, like the red-headed chick a year above me in college who just couldn’t fathom that I wasn’t going to the big Oasis gig at Maine Road later that night. Britpop was a club that I didn’t want to join, full of bands like Pulp, who sang about twee nonsense whilst mincing around a stage littered with kitsch charity-shop junk. “Jarvis is really a fantastic social commentator,” I would be told. That’s strange, I thought, he looks like a collector of chintz, singing mediocre songs, backed by a band of average musicians.

(I guess that’s the point I still agree with today. If you listen to rock music, you tend to listen to a better pedigree of musician. The lines have blurred completely, because rock music is now so mainstream, and has been for the past decade, but when I think back to the 1990’s, the Indie or Britpop bands were full of musicians who just couldn’t really play. Noel Gallagher may have started off as a decent songwriter – although it pains me to say it – but his skills on the guitar are very basic. Listen to him solo and he plays the same pentatonic scale every single time. Compare him to somebody like Slash, and there’s just no contest. You may think it’s an unfair comparison, but players like Slash aren’t that uncommon in rock music.)

Anyway, I digress. So, there I am at University, in my second year I think, and it’s getting a little tired listening to rock music all the time. It’s not like I had run out of rock bands to listen to, but there was definitely nothing decent that was coming out by contemporary bands. Bright young rock hopes like The Wildhearts had lost their way and gone all industrial, and Terrorvision had gone completely mainstream, singing about Tequila on Top Of The Pops every week. Then one day I was in the Scream pub in Huddersfield, and somebody put Just by Radiohead on the jukebox.

My whole outlook on music changed instantly. Here was an Indie or a Britpop band, playing something that was just as musically interesting as anything that I had heard in rock music – either in contemporary rock music or in classic rock. I rushed out and bought the album straight away.

Just was clearly the best song on the album, accompanied by a great music video, but there was some other really good stuff on there too. I very quickly bought Pablo Honey (average, but with a couple of highlights) and OK Computer (overrated, but with a couple of highlights), but The Bends remained my favourite (and still does to this day).

The rest of my years at University were spent digesting everything I could by Radiohead. I even remember buying one of those cheaply produced interview discs with the band, just because my appetite for anything related to them was so strong.

Their lasting effect on my musical tastes is impossible to quantify. I made a huge left turn from my existing staid music collection, and turned almost wholeheartedly into Indie and Britpop. I started listening to some bad examples of the genre (Cast, Space, Bis, etc), but found plenty of modern classics there too (The Las, Blur, Supergrass, etc). This eye-opening led to a decision that I’m still in two minds about today. In the summer of 1999, I decided against seeing Aerosmith headline a day of rock bands at Wembley Stadium, in favour of travelling to my first of many Glastontonbury festivals.

I guess it was just bad timing, but I still partly regret not seeing Aerosmith that weekend. One of my friends went to that gig, and when he told me about the setlist they played, full of ‘70s classics they had avoided playing in the three times I had seen them up to that point, I immediately started kicking myself. But then when I think back to Glastonbury 1999, and all the bands I saw not only that year, but every year I went back up to and including 2007, it’s not really a fair comparison.

If I had seen Aerosmith at Wembley Stadium in 1999, I would have seen my favourite ever band, supported by the likes of Lenny Kravitz (who I was lucky enough to catch that same weekend at Glastonbury) and The Black Crowes (who I still haven’t managed to see live). By deciding to go to the Glastonbury festival that year, and over the next six Glastonburys I went to, I managed to see David Bowie, Radiohead, R.E.M., Manic Street Preachers, Suzanne Vega, The White Stripes, Super Furry Animals, Oasis, The Who, Paul McCartney, Muse, Doves, Coldplay, Air, The Chemical Brothers, The Bluetones, Fatboy Slim, Kings Of Leon, Moby, The Killers, Blondie, Amy Winehouse, and a whole lot more.

Radiohead almost lost me with OK Computer, but they definitely lost me after that. At one point, I remember seeing them play a live gig on TV, I think to promote Kid-A. At one point during the set, Jonny Greenwood took off his guitar and walked over to a bank of portable TVs. He crouched down and started flicking through channels as part of the performance. That’s it, I thought, they’ve turned into something else.

I liked Radiohead as a guitar band, when they used to write songs on guitars. I’d even be brave enough to say The Bends is the best album of the 1990s.

Hit: Street Spirit (Fade Out)

Hidden Gem: Bullet Proof…I Wish I Was