Suzanne Vega Performs in Israel

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Cool, elegant and eloquent as always, Suzanne Vega had a cozy chat with a room full of journalists in anticipation of her performance tomorrow night, July 19th, at the Mann Auditorium (Hechal HaTarbut) in Tel Aviv. “This is my third or fourth time here,” said Vega, “with ten year gaps in between. I married one Jewish man, then, in the next decade I married another Jewish man, so each time I return I feel more connected.”

The demand for tickets was so great that Vega will be performing twice in one evening, the first performance at 18:30, followed by the originally scheduled gig at 21:15. This kind of back to back concert was more typical of the early days of her career in 1986 -87, said the singer, but she said she was looking forward to performing and will “think of ways I can make them different” for those fans who will be attending both.

Two performances in one night should not pose a problem for the talented Vega who is currently working in several directions at once. In addition to blogging about music for the New York Times, touring and working – “slowly” she says – on a new album, she has been re-recording her entire catalogue acoustically all winter long. The songs will be available online to mark the 25th anniversary of the release of her self-titled first album. The songs will be open to remix: “people can do that [remix] and upload to the site,” opening a new form of dialogue with her audience.

She says that songwriting is “different now” as compared to the past: “with experience you have more doubt sometimes. When you are young it feels amazing even to have one idea. When you hear more and read more, your standards get higher and it is harder to meet your own standards. It’s a slower process than it used to be. These days I really have to make the time to do it.” She often composes on an acoustic guitar and says “sometimes a clean pure melody that comes to my mind” is the beginning of a new song. Sometimes she uses GarageBand on a MAC to “flesh out ideas.”

As much a poet as a songwriter, her songs often take off from the lyrics when she “suddenly hear a voice saying some weird thing, like in “Blood Makes Noise”. Sometimes it’s a title or an image. If I just sit down and wait then there’s usually something else I have to do, like walk the dog…anything. You have to make the time or those little voices go away and sometimes they don’t come back.”

In terms of experimenting with new sounds, she says that her work on the album for the film “Dead Man Walking” is “as far as I’ll go with that industrial sound.” But comments that on her most recent album – Beauty and Crime – that she “meant for more crime and less beauty in the sound of it…I didn’t get the crime remix I was hoping for.”

Before her concert she’ll warm up by listening to a playlist of favorite music that includes Radiohead, Juliana Hatfield, The Foo Fighters (their previous album) and Rufus Wainwright among others. Vega recently celebrated her 50th birthday as Leonard Cohen’s special guest – “it was the dream of a lifetime,” she says, adding, “It’s hard not to have special thoughts about this birthday. I feel pretty good…I do yoga. It doesn’t really matter what age I am. When I was younger I felt old.”

Asked whether she ever gets tired of singing the same audience favorites time after time, she says she is glad that people like the songs and want to hear them, “it’s not a burden,” she smiles, “I eat breakfast every morning with the same enthusiasm. When they [the audience] light up, cheer and bring out their cell phones –  that makes it worth a lot.”

Asked how she feels about being in Israel once more, she says, “I feel very happy, content…I feel in the right place,” and offers a parting gift to the assembled group: a brief a capella taste of Tom’s Diner – “a story about breakfast.”

Photo: Elizur Reuveni