Suzanne Vega: Live at the Speakeasy NYC 1985


Let Them Eat Vinyl, a U.K.-based company, recently issued on CD and vinyl, a recording of an April 17th, 1985 FM radio broadcast by Suzanne Vega live from The Speakeasy. It features solo performances of all the tracks from her debut record plus the songs Tom’s Diner and Gypsy that would appear on her second album “Solitude Standing.”

The appearance and the broadcast was timed to promote her first album and captures, with a good quality original source, the atmosphere of an intimate club and performance. Fortunately, most of the monologues between songs are included and, like many performers who choose to talk about their music with the audience — not all singer-songwriters are so inclined — these segments are often the most interesting parts of the performance, either when sharing some background on the music or revealing something of the person behind the songs.

Although by this point Vega had performed often enough to have developed some comfortable bits of stagecraft — stage-tested anecdotes and such — in general the recording plays as a relaxed and spontaneous performance with observations and asides that occurs when a performer is engaged with a supportive audience. For example, there is an anecdote about the song “Neighborhood Girls:”

I think I can tell you without reserve that this last song I’m going to do is my favorite one from the album…it’s called Neighborhood Girls. I’m really pleased with it. Frank Christian plays electric guitar and Steve Addabbo plays electric guitar and Sue Evans plays drums and I’m really pleased with it…when I was in Iowa last week I made the mistake of asking them if they had a subway…I realized that they might not know what I was talking about…they looked at me like I was on the spaceship Enterprise…

The performance itself is, in the main, a good one. A couple of songs, “Small Blue Thing” and “Freeze Tag” are a bit tentative and pitchy in spots but others, such as “Some Journey” and “The Queen and the Soldier” are delivered with complete polish and confidence. “The Queen and the Soldier” in particular is as strong in this broadcast as in any concert she has played in the last few weeks. The guitar is smooth and assured and the vocal is notably stronger and fuller-bodied.

One can hear that the song taps into the deepest well-streams of her imagination and it is interesting to see that this connection to the song has remained consistent. The hold the song seems to have on Suzanne and consequently the listener is the same at The Speakeasy in 1985 as it was at a show your correspondent sat in on in at The Space in Evanston Illinois in November 2014.

If someone did not already own “Suzanne Vega” or did not have any of her recent “Close-up” series or the latest album, “Tales from the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles,” it is relatively easy to recommend that you should buy any one of those recordings before this one. But there is something timeless and undated about this album — there is no sense that “this is the ’80’s’ — and it sits as a fascinating companion piece to “Suzanne Vega,” one of the most important albums by a singer-songwriter of the rock era, an album whose 30th anniversary arrives next month.

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