Suzanne Vega
Ram’s Head Tavern | Annapolis, MD | 04.10.02

It’s a small wonder why seeing Suzanne Vega perform at an intimate venue - such as the Ram’s Head Tavern in Annapolis, Maryland, which seats no more than 223 souls - is as refreshing as it is exciting. Having played to audiences large and small, from coast-to-coast, Europe, and beyond for much of 2001-2 in support of her latest effort, Songs in Red and Gray, Vega settled down at a highly anticipated return trip to D.C.’s nautical neighbor, billed as “an evening with friends.” And indeed, Vega’s early performance last Wednesday evening lived up to those expectations. The comfort of Ram’s Head On Stage’s “listening room” provided a warm setting, made warmer by Vega’s brand of introspective musings and gorgeous melodies. The buffer zone of professionalism seemed relaxed as sincerity was on cue for the entire evening.

Joined by long-time touring partner Mike Visceglia on bass, Vega took the stage at quarter past seven, briefed the room, courted the audience with a smile and hello, then quickly launched into her first hit single (from her 1985 debut album), "Marlene on the Wall." A standard opener, well received nonetheless. Afterwards, Vega remarked that requests would be the theme of the evening, noting, “the previous night’s audience felt very encouraged to shout out thoughts and requests… perhaps a little too encouraged… but that’s a good thing.” Immediately, names of songs old and new were heard from throughout the room and Vega requited, aptly performing a string of favorites, each deserving of an introduction, including “Small Blue Thing”, “Caramel”, “Calypso”, "When Heroes Go Down”, “Rock in This Pocket” and “Gypsy.” “Calypso” stood out as a showing of gentle rhythms and delicately placed lyrics, and provided a nice moment for Visceglia to run a few notes up and down the neck of the bass. Vega provided personal insight about the soul soother “Gypsy”, a song written “when I was seventeen, while working as a camp counselor in the Adirondack Mountains. An English boy had captured my heart and we would spend the evenings just laying around, looking at the stars curled up in each others arms.” The song was further influenced by her love of Leonard Cohen’s work.

Eager for anything Vega, the audience was led through more walks down memory lane and playful anecdotes between songs. A helping of new, old, and in-between material read like a Vega biography (in fact, at one point, Vega even read a passage from her book). “Widow’s Walk” gently waltzed through the intricacies of love lost told via metaphor (Vega recently divorced producer Mitchell Froom). The ever recognizable “Tom’s Diner” (with its “Doo-doooo, Doo-doo, Doooo, Doo-doo, Doo” hook and good use of reverb on vocals) visited the eatery at 112th St. and Broadway in New York City (Vega’s hometown hangout). And Vega closed her performance with “In Liverpool”, a composition that came to her while walking the streets of the namesake, reflecting on the English boy she fancied some 20 years prior.

Coming full circle seems to be a theme for Vega, judging by her fresh and nostalgic performance at a venue that seduces her return, time and time again. Toward show’s end, Vega thanked Viscaglia for his contribution on bass, thanked the sound crew for a job well-done, thanked the audience for playing along, and thanked Ram’s Head for, “just being here.” I couldn’t agree more. The intimacy of this performance was, all at once, provocative, inspiring, and easy-going. In speaking with Vega briefly, after the show, she mentioned that she feels a sense of emotional release for the first time in a while, something difficult to come by for a New Yorker in the post “9/11” era (a friend of hers died in the tragedy). And it showed. After some much needed time off, she will take to the road, again, in Europe. Satisfying all who will lend her their ears, completing the circle once more. Visit Suzanne Vega's website for updated information.

James Houck
JamBase | Maryland
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[Published on: 4/11/02]

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