When Judge P.S. Colbert hears something late at night, he pulls up the covers and turns on the lights.
Dateline: Rome, Italy—July 2003. Auditorium Roma Parco Della Musica.
Yo, Italy! How's it hangin'?
(Stage whisper): One, two, three, four --
• "Marlene On The Wall"
Let's save the obvious "she should've been a much bigger star than she actually is" conversation for another time. Suzanne Vega Live: Solitude Standing is a short and sweet trawl through the singer-songwriter's back pages which more than makes a case for itself. Combining music and poetry, the show's set up couldn't be simpler: Vega accompanies herself on acoustic guitar, flanked by electric bassist Mike Visceglia, and singer-songwriter Valerio Piccolo, who translates Vega's (non-musical) verse into Italian for the home crowd.
Her conversational alto has limited range, but is no less musical for it. In fact, my favorite moment came when she set down her axe to perform an almost a cappella version of "Left Of Center," which Pretty In Pink fans will recognize as a jewel from that famed soundtrack. Just as impressive as Vega's gutsy vocal is Visceglia's accompaniment; muscular and melodic enough to keep you from missing the original (and quite ornate) arrangement.
Spare instrumentation and production value aside—limited to three soft spotlights cutting through shadows—one shouldn't mistake this intimacy for feyness. Though Vega readily admits the personal circumstances that inspired the lyrics of her relationship-based songs, there's never the icky, embarrassing, and even tabloid quality to them that's come to symbolize the work of today's "confessional writers," a la Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus.
Though the performance itself remains unimpeachable, the visual presentation here is something of a letdown. Obviously transferred from a VHS source, the full-frame picture betrays lines, softness and some slight ghosting. None of this makes the artistic material any less valuable, but a word to the wise: the larger the screen I played it on, the shoddier it looked. Likewise, the stereo sound seemed to fall away until I plugged in headphones and discovered the true beauty and intricacies of the arrangements—I recommend you do the same in order to fully appreciate this set.
There are a pair of extras: "Suzanne In Conversation" features Vega and Piccolo conversing about her creative process for a pleasant twelve minutes, while "Suzanne In Pictures" stretches things by presenting exactly seven black and white performance photographs in a repeating loop to the accompaniment of the "Tom's Diner (DNA Remix)" that gave Vega her biggest international hit single in 1990. The record goes for nearly four minutes. Meh.
Amazingly, despite a complete lack of fist-pumping, anthemic sing-alongs, and twerking hot-steppers, the stunningly beautiful Ms. Vega (who's steadfastly refused to market herself as a sex kitten) manages to come off here without losing a shred of dignity. You've got to see Suzanne Vega Live: Solitude Standing to believe it, and I highly recommend you do.
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