Suzanne Vega, Deborah Conway @ Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide 4/8/2018

During their supporting set, Deborah Conway and partner Willy Zygier performed well received songs from their last few albums interspersed with stories of a run in with Simple Minds’ Jim Kerr backstage disagreeing about a woman’s right to abortion during a past appearance in Thebarton, and Deborah noting the upcoming 25th anniversary of her album Bitch Epic by joking that she has been has been stockpiling nutella in preparation. Book of Life has Willy on dobro initially channelling a world music vibe. Deborah plays God from the Old Testament in a song for the “1 or 2 menopausal women in the audience” from the 2013 album Stories of Ghosts before they finish with Serpent’s Tooth, a song about having a teenage daughter from their most recent album, 2016’s Everybody’s Begging.

Suzanne Vega commences with the announcement that this is the last Australian show on an anniversary tour and that the songs to be played will be a selection from her second album Solitude Standing followed by songs from 99.9F° and some others. Backed by guitar, drums and bass (Gerry Leonard, Yuvall Lyon and Mike Visceglia, respectively), she begins with Tom’s Diner a capella before the hiccup of mistakenly introducing Ironbound. She then plays Luka and the familiarity of this song makes Gerry Leonard’s electric guitar soloing sound a little clipped. Re-introducing Ironbound, Suzanne is relieved to find that finally on this tour Adelaide is the only city where there is no response when she asks if there is anyone from Newark, New Jersey in the audience. Nearly every song is introduced by an enlightening story placing the songs in the context of her life. In the Eye follows the order of the album before a raw and alive performance of Solitude Standing. After Language, Suzanne reveals Gypsy as originally being a poem she wrote about a summer romance she had at 18 that came to an end – “I gave him a poem and he gave me his bandanna”, later revealing that she still has it, more later…

She mentions that her biggest influences are Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan and acknowledges Peter Gabriel’s influence and inspiration, as well as an infatuation with the So album, especially the “tribal sound” for Wooden Horse (Caspar Hauser’s Song) a song based on a book which she had originally hoped he would write but then wrote herself at the suggestion of friend. This completed the songs from Solitude Standing before commencing the songs from 99.9F°. Suzanne is almost namedropping by telling a story of meeting Bono (although no introduction is needed she still describes him as “the lead singer of U2”) and details twice turning down offers to hang with U2. She played him a demo of Rock in This Pocket (Song of David) to which he reportedly responded, “I think it’s a good woman song”, a comment with which she initially disagreed (the song was written about David and Goliath) but years later has reconciled with Bono’s opinion in the light of the “Me too” movement.

A US number 1 for a week (“beating U2 and Peter Gabriel”, she notes, the audience responding with a cheer), Blood Makes Noise is almost an anomaly amongst the more traditionally structured songs but is definitely the best performance of the night, mechanical and pounding with Suzanne giving her version of a rap and her previously restrained dancing now coming alive. In Liverpool is described as a 12 years later sequel to the earlier Gypsy, an imagined follow up in which Suzanne updated their story. The song was heard by it’s protagonist who was then introduced to Gypsy by his girlfriend and he dug up the original poem before making contact with Suzanne, subsequently attending her 45th birthday and they have maintained a friendship since.

Following the title track 99.9F°, there is the travelling carnival-esque Fat Man and Dancing Girl inspired by finding out about her paternal grandmother after she had met her biological father she had not seen since she was 18 months old. (If You Were) In My Movie has a vocal similar to Laurie Anderson’s spoken word style while Suzanne walks about the stage freed from her guitar. After Bad Wisdom, she mentions she works hard to write cheerful songs, preceding When Heroes Go Down by describing it as “one minute fifty four of cheerful disappointment”. As the set nears an end, Suzanne thanks her crew before As Girls Go includes a guitar solo by Gerry Leonard that starts sounding like a mooing cow before developing into something more traditionally familiar.

For the encore, Suzanne returns wearing a top hat (referencing Marlene Dietrich) for Marlene on the Wall (coincidentally there is a request for this song). Left of Center is performed as a duo, Suzanne’s vocals paired with Mike Visceglia’s virtuosic bass playing. The set is bookended by a reprise of Tom’s Diner but instead of the instrumental from the album this is a performance of the DNA version which brought it to wider recognition, the audience not quite taking the implied invitation to dance and groove to this final song. The band leave the stage after a group bow with most of the audience leaving soon after but if you were one of the lucky few who might usually stay until after the end credits, Suzanne returned to those waiting in the foyer for a brief signing and photo opportunity.

Live Review by Jason Leigh

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