Suzanne Vega – review

The Sage, Gateshead
The black-clad singer-songwriter gives her new album an ethereal feel, but still delivers her crowd-pleasing classics – and pays homage to a legendary fellow New Yorker

"We are excited. I see that some of you are, too," begins Suzanne Vega. Well, they're hardly whooping in the aisles, but the New Yorker has pulled a sizable crowd some 30 years after she was hailed as the saviour of singer-songwriting and folkie bedsit angst. She opens with the song that launched her, Marlene on the Wall. It combines an abusive relationship and a Marlene Dietrich homage, which Vega augments here by performing it in a Dietrich-style top hat.

Backed only by Gerry Leonard on electric guitar, the black-clad, elfin 54-year-old is promoting her latest album, Tales From the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles, and songs about tarot and spirituality. The limited format does give the likes of Jacob and the Angel an appropriately ethereal feel. She explains that Crack in the Wall is about "a glimpse into a spiritual world beyond this one". Pause. "Which happens from time to time."

In fact, for all her songs about spirits, beatings and illicit sex, the bedsit queen has become quite the raconteur. Confronting an atmosphere she describes as "like a Quaker meeting", she asks how many people have heard the stream of the new album. "Three? Fantastic!" After an impromptu Q&A results in massed shouts for her biggest hit, Luka, she chuckles, "That comes later. OK, that's enough questions!"

Luka's tale of child abuse has lost none of its sad grandeur. Tom's Diner – the a capella 1987 minor hit that became an unlikely remix smash for dance producers DNA – is thrillingly reinvented yet again, this time over a guitar loop forming a hip-hop rhythm. Her first-ever performance of Lou Reed's Walk on the Wild Side makes a lovely tribute to a New York storyteller who is no longer with us, from one who – albeit on the fringes – is very much still here.

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Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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