#50 Suzanne Vega, Bruce Mason Theatre

7 August 2018


When you live in Grey Lynn and almost all your gigs are in the central city, there's an almost Thar Be Dragons feel about heading over the bridge to a North Shore venue. I think it would be fair to say, I've never had a North Shore vibe. There's a lot to like about the north side of the bridge but the most I've ever been able to contemplate is a foothold in Northcote with a view south.

Hats off to Lisa Crawley. Performing the support act solo on a large stage with the lead act's guitar sitting beside her, and with nothing but a keyboard and a damn fine voice to hold the audience's attention. And attention she got, with songs about travelling alone with salt and vinegar chips, and being the wedding singer for an ex-boyfriend, and other such quirky storylines that also carried a sweet groove.

My Suzanne Vega story began in 1986. I arrived at student halls in Auckland with a confident and ridiculously misplaced belief that my cassettes of Marillion, Peter Gabriel and Mike Oldfield might impress the alternative crowd. I couldn't quite understand why I didn't get much traction there.

So the alternative crowd - Peter, Candy and Angela - introduced me to a few new experiences.

Suzanne Vega was one of the first, heard on Radio With Pictures on a Sunday night with Marlene on the Wall. The following year Solitude Standing came out, and my brother took me and a few hostel mates to the St James to hear her play with her band. Stef and I might have kinda squealed with every one we recognised.

The thing is she made folk seriously New York cool at a time when Van Halen were a mainstay of the radio, and her songs had, and still have, a freshness and a depth that aren't anchored in any decade.

So when she came on, and doffed a top hat, and opened with Marlene, I succumbed to a tear or two. Small Blue Thing a few songs later may have done the same. Gypsy revived the story of a summer in love with a dadaist painter from Liverpool that she told back in 87, but this time it had a sequel too. And the story is still a good one.

Lots to love with this minimalist performance of Vega with acoustic guitar and Mike Visceglia on bass, always engaging and never self-indulgent. Left of Centre was top shelf, sung with just the bass accompaniment, Luka remained poignant, and Tom's Diner managed the transition from a cappella to funk versions in a seamless blink of an eye.

I left well pleased that I crossed the 50 mark with this small but perfectly formed show, and really hoping her promise to see you next time is for real.