Posts Tagged ‘singer songwriter’

Suzanne Vega Sage Gateshead 18 February 2023

“My name is Luka, I live on the second floor, I live upstairs from you, Yes, I think you’ve seen me before If you hear something late at night, Some kind of trouble, some kind of fight, Just don’t ask me what it was…” (Vega, 1987)  A great song which rings round and around in my head before, during and after this great concert.

VEGA TIXSuzanne Vega kept passing me by, or rather, I foolishly kept passing her by. Each time she played locally, usually at the Sage, I thought of going along, and then some reason made excuses to myself to pass. She was one of several artists over the years who, for no particular reason, I liked and yet I never took the time to go and see them in concert. Well, I have come to the decision that in future I will try and catch up on as many of those artists as I am able.

VEGA4The song “Luka” rings round in my head as the concert grows nearer. I listen to her music on my friendly intelligent assistant, Alexa, and find that I know quite a few of her songs, which surprises me a little. Suzanne Vega emerged from the folk scene of Greenwich Village, New York, in the early 1980s; with her pure voice, a clutch of songs and an acoustic guitar. Her songs drew from storytelling each one weaving its own picture and enticing the listener to think about the content. She released her self-titled, highly acclaimed debut album in 1985. From the Sage website: “Known for performances that convey deep emotion, Vega’s distinctive, “clear, unwavering voice” (Rolling Stone) has been described as “a cool, dry sandpaper-brushed near-whisper” by The Washington Post, with NPR Music noting that she “has been making vital, inventive music” throughout the course of her decades-long career.…….[she]………“observes the world with a clinically poetic eye” (The New York Times), Vega’s songs have tended to focus on city life, ordinary people and real-world subjects. Notably succinct and understated, her work is immediately recognizable—as utterly distinct and thoughtful as it was when her voice was first heard on the radio over 30 years ago.”

VEGA1Like her songs, the stage set is minimal and she’s accompanied by a single, excellent, electric guitarist. She starts, well, at the start (where else to start?) with “Marlene on the Wall” and moves through a mixture of old and new tunes each one telling its own story. She is not afraid of bearing her soul, telling us of a teenage love affair at summer camp, initiated through a mutual admiration of Leonard Cohen and his music. She told the guy not to contact her again, and wrote a song to mark the affair. But he reappeared via a note and a bunch of flowers at a concert in Liverpool one night. This sparked another song and a lifelong friendship. They meet for lunch regularly. Her set, like her songs, is full of similarly quite personal stories. She alternates between her acoustic guitar, a lovely dapper top hat and a quirky little finger clicking dance. Wonderful. (Note to myself. One day I must summon up the courage to wear the battered old top hat I bought some time ago on eBay. Or maybe not: perhaps I will silly or too eccentric, unlike Vega).

VEGA2Do we like Blondie or Lou Reed? The Lou Reed vote wins (and includes Vega’s own vote) so we are treated to “Walk on the Wild Side”. I recognise many more songs than I expect. “Tom’s Diner” gets into my head and sticks there. “Da da da da…….” Not a bad way to end an evening.

I’m pleased I made the effort Suzanne. There is a depth and honesty within the simplicity of your stories. Thanks for sharing them with us. “Luka” comes back into my mind. So does the top hat. Maybe I will decide to wear it one day after all. Thanks again for a lovely evening and thoughts of my top hat.

VEGA5Setlist: Marlene on the Wall; Small Blue Thing; Caramel; Gypsy; In Liverpool; The Queen And The Soldier; When Heroes Go Down / Lipstick Vogue; Rock in This Pocket (Song of David); Last Train from Mariupol; Solitude Standing; Left Of Center; I Never Wear White; Some Journey; Luka; Tom’s Diner;

Encore: Walk on the Wild Side; Tombstone; Rosemary

Jimmy Webb Lyric Theatre Hammersmith London 21st May 2005

Jimmy Webb Lyric Theatre Hammersmith London 21st May 2005
jimmywebbtixI’d fancied seeing Jimmy Webb for many years. “MacArthur Park” is one of my favourite songs. There is something about it that sets it apart from all of the other songs of the late ’60s; it has an epic, timeless nature. The twists and turns of the enigmatic storyline, the dramatic melody changes, the lush orchestration, the hints of psychedelia, the pathos of Harris’ vocal, all add up to a masterpiece. I still play my old scratched vinyl 45. In fact, I subscribe to the view that Webb is a genius, and that as a young man he created some of the best pop songs ever written. For example, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” is the third most performed song in the past 50 years. Until recently his visits to the UK were few and far between, so when we saw concert advertised at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, Marie and I decided to go. The Lyric is a tiny theatre and was full of Webb fans from all over Europe. Jimmy sat alone with a grand piano, telling great stories and playing highlights from his back catalogue and tracks from his (then) latest album “Twilight of the Renegades”.
“Webb’s music has never fitted into a single category: it somehow spans pop, country, musical theatre and vaudeville. Here, he linked his pieces together with some well-polished yarn-spinning, like the one about driving around Ireland [on a big drinking spree] with the actor Richard Harris (who recorded Webb’s “MacArthur Park” and “Didn’t We”), or [in introducing “Highwayman”] the time he ended up on stage at Farm Aid, impersonating Johnny Cash alongside Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson. “I wish they hadn’t invented computers,” said Webb “They’re puttin’ us out of business.” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” was an odyssey of heartache, with Webb’s repeated right-hand trill mimicking the ringing of an unanswered phone. “Wichita Lineman” evoked the endless horizons of the American midwest. For an encore, Webb attempted the epic folly that is MacArthur Park – “Believe me, it’s an adventure” – and made an astonishingly good job of it. He could have played for twice as long and nobody would have left.” (extract taken form The Guardian review of the time, 2005).
Webb’s singing was interesting to say the least. He put his own interpretation on the songs, periodically throwing his head back as if to somehow squeeze out the high notes. His piano playing was exquisite and added a further dimension to “MacArthur Park”. We had seats in the front row of the balcony, looking down on the stage. The guy next to us had travelled from Ireland for the show, and was shouting requests to Jimmy, talking to him as if he knew him. It was that sort of concert, a gathering of fans and friends who had come to savour the delights of a clutch of songs that a young guy wrote in the ’60s and ’70s, and that told us stories and painted pictures the like of which we had never seen before.
Jimmy Webb has toured the UK more regularly in recent years, playing concerts locally. I greatly enjoyed the concert at the Lyric, yet for some reason, I haven’t thus far felt the need to go and see him again. Rather, I have wished to keep my memories of that night in London, and of watching and hearing him sing “MacArthur Park” in particular.
Setlist: Crying in My Sleep; Highwayman; Galveston; Spanish Radio; No Signs of Age; Belmont Avenue; P.F. Sloan; How Quickly; By the Time I Get to Phoenix; Didn’t We; Wichita Lineman; Golden Girl
Encore: MacArthur Park; Adios

Ben Folds with Royal Northern Sinfonia The Sage Gateshead 11th July 2014

Ben Folds with Royal Northern Sinfonia The Sage Gateshead 11 July 2014
benfoldsflyerThis concert was part of Ben Folds’ 2014 global orchestral tour. Billed as “The Ben Folds Orchestral Experience,” it features his new classical piano concerto as well as a selection of his pop hits arranged for orchestral performances. Folds was the front man of Ben Folds Five before going on to have a successful solo career. Laura is a big fan, and Ben was on her list of people she has never seen, so off we went to his concert at the Sage last night. Fold’s music has somehow passed me by, so I went along with out of curiosity and looked forward to experiencing his songs for the first time. He was accompanied by the Royal Northern Sinfonia for the Sage concert; it seems he picks up “local” orchestras for each segment of the tour. The Royal Northern Sinfonia played with Ben for three nights, at Bristol Colston Hall, Manchester Bridgewater Hall, and at last night’s concert at the Sage.
I always seem to want to compare acts with those I am more familiar with, and I found this quite tricky to do in the case of Ben Folds. He has his own style, although I could sometimes hear influences from perhaps early Elton John, Billy Joel, Jimmy Webb, and American pop: The Monkees, The Lovin’ Spoonful. He is certainly a very talented and accomplished singer-songwriter. Ben was seated centre-stage at his grand piano, surrounded by the orchestra. He started with a few of his songs, which had been reworked for the orchestral accompaniment. He then played his new Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, which, he explained, he had recently been commissioned to write for a ballet. Now I’m not that used to attending classical concerts, but I really enjoyed this piece, which ran at around 25 minutes. One more song and there was a short interval.
Laura and I are were sitting in the upper level, looking down on the right of the stage, and the sound wasn’t too good there, so we moved to some empty seats up the back of the hall for the second part of the concert, and the sound quality was much better. The highlight of the second part of the evening was a completely new, improvised on the spot, piece. It was fascinating to watch the music develop in front of us, in real-time, Ben playing each part of the orchestra their parts on the piano, before they all played together. The piece featured Ben singing the lyrics (but not the tune) of the Kinks’ Sunny Afternoon, a copy of which a member of the troupe had apparently found in the restaurant. He explained that this follows similar, but also unique, improvisations in Bristol (a song about the Colston toilets) and Manchester (where the lyrics where the fire drill instructions). Pretty neat or what?! 🙂 benfoldstixIn another touching moment Folds led us phone to the mike so that he could play us his 14 year old daughter’s new song, which was really good (we all promised not to tell her).
Ben Folds is a big supporter of orchestras, and encouraged us all to support our local musicians. As we left the hall, we were handed a flyer promoting upcoming concerts by the Royal Northern Sinfonia playing Beethoven’s Six “Pastoral”, which included a message from Folds: “It’s long as shit, so if you haven’t heard classical music before you need to have patience you’re going to hear something that was probably as revolutionary as Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. It was written in 1825 and by that point a lot of Beethoven’s peers just viewed him as, well, some deaf gut who’s kind of losing his shit, you know, he’s meandering. he’s rambling. But he was like Lil’ Wayne here, he was building the beat. If you lie with your head between the speakers, if you have the patience, make yourself into a trapped audience, you will realise that this guy was sick, you know. He must have torn his hair out to get here. Its insane”. Indeed.
An interesting artist, and an excellent concert.
Setlist was something like this: Effington; Smoke; Jesusland; Picture Window; Concerto for Piano and Orchestra; Steven’s Last Night in Town. Interval. Zak and Sara; Landed; Fred Jones, Parts 1 & 2; Gracie; Not the Same; Sunny Afternoon (Orchestra Improvisation using the Kinks’ lyrics); Brick; One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces. Encore: The Luckiest. Encore 2: Kate; Rockin’ the Suburbs