by Margret Echeverria
I bought Suzanne Vega’s first album on cassette in the ’80’s. She was a poet and a strawberry blond, like me; but completely un-selfconscious, which was a state to which I could only aspire. She observed her world, wove her thoughts into beautiful language and sang it out in a sultry velvet voice tempered with wisdom. If you go see Suzanne Vega Sings Her New York Songs At The Carlyle in the next two weeks at Cafe Carlyle – and I recommend that you do – you will observe that she has still got it. That stand-out style is still fresh and comforting.
Vega has the quiet intensity of a poet and the pleasure in performance of a tigress. So sexy. That poetess persona – the sweetness in her voice – could be mistaken for shyness, but is not the narcissism of shyness; it is the selflessness of the artist – the tiger – observing this moment even as she delivers the “finished” piece. The freshness of her art is in that she is never finished. She grows right before your very eyes. Vega was good on that cassette I wore out thirty years ago, but I see now that she includes you when she is live. I got so tired of the radio play of Luka back then and even flinched when I saw it on the playlist, but this night, the song made me cry because Vega is not acting it out, she is really in it with that sorrowful little Chelsea boy all over again and I felt the wonder like it was my first encounter with that scene. You will easily come along to see the pictures painted in these songs – a woman outside the window hitching up her skirt to adjust her stockings in the rain. I can smell Tom’s coffee in Vega’s cup on our side of the window and the rain, too. I can see the red stripe around the top of the cup. There is no diva personality necessary with Vega. This is not Beyonce. This is a whole other kind of enthusiasm and charisma. No demands that you look and no apologies.
I must, of course, also mention that the atmosphere at the Cafe Carlyle is so pleasing. My meal was delicious – that salmon with the crispy skin cannot be beat and the lobster bisque was popping with flavor. The staff will accommodate any wish you have as though you are their very best friend. Judy Collins swept in to see the show with rhinestones in her hair and a huge bouquet of roses for Ms. Vega. The cafe is a very small venue, but rather than show any frustration about where to put this enormous gift until the end of the show, the bartender laughed as he searched out a hiding place under the bar.
As Vega told her stories of her New York songs — where the scenes happened in this city, who was there, what was happening at the time, I got it. It’s love. Vega sings about the vulnerability of being in love, the potential for violence, the impending betrayal and the human need to keep doing it to ourselves all the while she is holding us like babies that will not fall asleep. Flawless.
Suzanne Vega Sings Her New York Songs At The Carlyle
Suzanne Vega – Vocals, Acoustic Guitars; Gerry Leonard – Acoustic and Electric Guitars, Background Vocals; Jamie Edwards – Piano, Chamberlin Strings, Keyboards, Background Vocals; Jeff Allen – Upright Bass.
Through March 16. Tuesday – Saturday at 8:45pm. Reservations can be made by phone at 212.744.1600. Café Carlyle is located in The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel (35 East 76th Street, at Madison Avenue).