Suzanne Vega - Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
While she sensibly eases the audience into the evening with an opening salvo of the familiar ('Marlene On The Wall'; a languorous, sublime reading of 'Caramel', the bulk of this first night of Suzanne Vega's new tour is drawn from her unusually titled new album, Tales from the Realms of the Queen of Pentacles. In keeping with the tarot-inspired title, her between-song chat reveals that many of the new tracks find themselves concerned with spiritual matters, be they the link between this world and another ('Crack In The Wall'), bible stories ('Jacob and The Angel') or even reflecting on the life of Mother Theresa (the slightly clunky 'Laying Of Hands' - "Mother Theresa understood the laying on of hands / What I often wonder is how she kept from hearing love’s demands.")
This tour sees Vega performing with only producer Gerry Leonard alongside her on guitar, a somewhat different approach to her recent UK tours which have seen a bigger band. This lends itself both to new, sparse arrangements of old favourites, but also allows her to offer alternate readings of the new material, with percussion largely limited to hand claps and finger clicks. Much of the set is lower key as a result, but there are occasional forays into more upbeat territory, notably the well received and rocking 'I Never Wear White..'
The album tracks suggest that she still hasn’t lost the knack for songs with strong narrative threads, and the likes of 'Fool’s Complaint' sit comfortably alongside 'The Queen and The Soldier', while the Macklemore-referencing 'Don’t Uncork What You Can’t Contain' sees Vega visibly energised and enjoying performing.
Some three decades into her career, Suzanne Vega is as strong a songwriter and as vital a performer as ever, and the new touring arrangement breathes life into songs that some will have heard performed dozens of times over her career. Such familiarity doesn't harm main set closers 'Luka' and 'Tom’s Diner', with the pair given their usual warm reception, as are her endearing nods to the North West in the shape of a story about a former Liverpudlian boyfriend who inspired her as a teenager to write 'Gypsy', and an audience requested rendition of 'In Liverpool'.