Sunday, May 4, 2008

Homecoming: Suzanne Vega and Friends at the Postcrypt

For five years now, Suzanne Vega has played an evening at the Postcrypt, the tiny coffeehouse located under St. Paul's Chapel on the campus of Columbia University, with a few friends in tow. For her, it is a homecoming, since when she was a Barnard undergraduate (Class of 1981), honing her chops down at Jack Hardy's Monday night Songwriters' Circle, the Postcrypt was one of the venues where she was performing. For the audience, it is a chance to see a great songwriter performing in a venue that seats only 30 people (according to the fire marshal) and makes no use of microphones or amplification.

Tim Robinson has always been one of the other two songwriters performing in the round with Suzanne. In the past, Bob Hillman and Jack Hardy have rounded out the trio, but on Friday night, it was Richard Julian, another longtime mainstay on the downtown New York circuit (from the Fast Folk Cafe to the Living Room). (Richard Julian also appears on both Postcrypt recordings.)

Shows start at 9:00 p.m. at the Postcrypt, so with my friend Alex and her friends Natasha and Marty, we pulled in around 8:20 to make sure that we could get a seat. My acquaintance Tim (mentioned here as a guitarist who plays at various Irish sessions around town), who had worked on the road for Suzanne Vega at one point in his life, was in the house with a few friends. New York fiddler Bill Christophersen would wander in toward the end of the first set and ask me who the performers were -- he was just stopping by. The crowd never became overwhelming, as it has been in year's past -- people were sitting on the floor, but the atmosphere was very chill (except for the fact that it was about 110 degrees, and we all kept shedding layers of clothing -- chill except for that).

The three performers played in the round with Richard Julian kicking things off, Suzanne Vega playing second and Tim Robinson playing third. Some of the following song titles are more than approximate.

  • RJ: "Please Rene, Not Now"

  • SV: "Gypsy"

  • TR: "Helena's Radio"

  • RJ: "Brooklyn in the Morning"

  • SV: "Angel's Doorway" - about a cop from Queens named Angel who worked at Ground Zero

  • TR: A song that mentioned Staten Island to complete the tour of three of the four outer boroughs

  • RJ: 'This is a little ditty about corporate hegemony -- the feel good hit of 2008.' -- "Syndicated"

  • SV: 'I feel like I should do something in a major key, and I have very few of those.' -- "I'll Never Be Your Maggie Mae" -- Suzanne forgot the lyrics to one of the verses, and my friend Alex was there to set her straight and get her back on track!

  • TR: A song about Lilly from the town of Owl's Head with the scene-defining lyrics "In the time of carburetors / Before God had shaved the beard."

  • RJ: "Photograph" with the lyric "I prefer a memory to a photograph."

  • SV: "Ludlow Street" -- Tim Robinson asked about the time period in which the song is set; Suzanne said, 'The 80s were the party time, and the 90s were the rehab time.' Tim Robinson asked said that he wasn't aware of any rehab facilities on Ludlow Street and then caught himself and said, 'Clearly I'm joking about something that's not funny,' and Richard Julian cleared the air with the perfectly timed, 'Man, that happens to me all the time...'

  • TR: Circus-themed song about a woman named Dianne with the rather brilliant lyric "Silver emulsions are a flash in the pan."

  • Set Break

  • RJ: "The Tide Rolled In"

  • SV: "Rock in This Pocket" -- from the perspective of David (versus Goliath)

  • TR: A song about Neal Cassidy, which concludes with an audience member accidentally breaking a beer bottle, leading to a discussion between Richard and Suzanne about whether that was more reminiscent of a gig that they did in Cleveland or one in Milwaukee

  • RJ: "Man in the Hole" -- a bleak parable song

  • SV: "The Queen and the Soldier" -- another bleak parable song

  • TR: "The Rest Happened" with the lyric "Can you look back loving now? / That's the test."

  • RJ: "Do It Again" -- a new song with background singing opportunities for the crowd

  • SV: "As You Are Now" -- first time performed in public

  • TR: "Saint Jerome in the Wilderness Staring at His Hat" -- one of Tim's best, this one follows a group of characters who escape from a Renaissance painting and go wandering through the streets of Sao Paolo; Richard Julian suggested a bossa nova beat

  • RJ: "You Can't Go Back" with lyric "Life is a dream that comes in between your birthday and your heart attack."

  • SV: "Marlene on the Wall" -- such a great song

  • TR: "Louis Zukofsky Died in His Sleep"

  • And then, because it could end no other way:

  • SV: "Tom's Diner"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yay, Suzanne at the 'Crypt! I think the the Tim Robinson circus-themed song is about Diane Arbus.