June 01, 2003
My Evening with Suzanne
Lost sleep again on Wednesday when I went to see Suzanne Vega at the Bowery Ballroom, again with Mike. Whereas the night before the place was practically a honky tonk for the Lucinda Williams gig, it was like being at a giant coffee house for Suzanne's performance. A really diverse crowd, with hipster types young and old, geeks, people with rasta braids, a Salman Rushdie type in a tweedy coat. Goofs like me. Gawker was allegedly in attendance as well.
The opening act, Gerry Leonard, couldn't be there because of a death in the family. Suzanne came out to introduce a different opening act, a girl with a guitar whose name I can't remember, although she is playing Pete's Candy Store later this month. Dawn Landes, I think. She played a 45-minute set, with a great opening song, playing with her guitar along to a noisy, electronic track. Very cool. But the songs got progressively less interesting, culminating with the "Accordion Song" - I felt that maybe I might even be able to play accordion. Still, she has a nice voice, good stage presence, and I think she has potential. The crowd certainly was inclined to like her.
Great spot by stage left. We experienced the "halo effect," where there's literally an open circle around us because no one wants to block Mike in his wheelchair. So we short folks had a nice, unimpeded view. Suzanne came out with her band - a guitarist, bassist and drummer. Suzanne looked contained - hair pulled back, black suit, quirky shirt, black Chuck Taylors. The woman who was filming at the in-store a few weeks back was there again - I understand a documentary is in the works, she must have something to do with it.
Just a fantastic, tight show. Suzanne is great with her guitar, as well as with a full band. Lots of songs from her catalog, with stories here and there. She told of how she came to write "I'll Never Be Your Maggie May," a response of sorts to the Rod Stewart song, which she loved when she was twelve, because of the music and the mandolin solo, but then gave more thought to the lyrics as she got older. She explained how she was the folk-singing, disco-dancing camp counselor and that she wrote "Gypsy" for this fellow counselor that she dated, who gave her his bandana in return. She played that solo, bathed in a single golden light. It's such a lovely song, and it's hard to believe she wrote that when she was 17.
She read a funny excerpt from her current book, a collection of writings, and told the story of Millie, a childhood friend of sorts, and connected that to a recent circumstance where she was taking her daughter to school and ended up exchanging rude words with a man in a three-piece suit in a BMW who called her a "dumb ho." Some woman freaked out when Suzanne followed up the Maggie May song with "Calypso" from the album Solitude Standing. She started exclaiming ecstatically, something like "YES! YES! CALYPSO! YES! YES! YES! THANK YOU!" and throwing her arms up in the air. I think it was safe to say that everybody, maybe even Suzanne, was freaked out. Hello - the show is not about you. Whoop and clap, shout out a request even, but please don't act like you're about to have a personal climax in the middle of the crowd. Sheesh! She must really like that album, because she spazzed out to a lesser extent when Suzanne began playing the title track.
Other highlights - a funky, chilled arangement of "Left of Center" which she sang a cappella and was accompanied by the bassist. Another was "Solitaire," which she said was about those nights when you're vowing to play only one game, then go to bed, and you're still on the computer two hours later, trying to win your first game. Suzanne sang, the drummer and bassist sat nearby on stools with complicated handclaps for percussion (the bassist would count out for us when to clap), and the guitarist accompanied. I love how smooth and silky her voice gets when she performed "Caramel." Towards the end, more requests were entertained, including "The Queen and the Soldier" and "World Before Columbus." And the inevitable "Luka," done with the full band and "Tom's Diner" with the crowd doing the "do do dos." She's probably really, really tired of doing this, but she's obliging of her audience.
A fantastic evening. Can't wait to see what shows up in the documentary.