Live at the Speakeasy
This superb broadcast recording captures Suzanne Vega at an early but pivotal moment in her rapid rise to world renown. The concert, at New York's intimate but influential SpeakEasy club in Greenwich Village, was performed the week her eponymous debut album was released in April 1985. This beautifully rendered show is also of particular note because, unlike at her later gigs, Suzanne appears entirely solo. Although born in Santa Monica, California, in 1959, Suzanne Vega spent almost all of her formative years in the frenetic environs of New York City. She studied at Barnard, a private liberal arts college for women adjacent to NYC's Columbia University campus in Manhattan. Concurrently, in the early 1980 s, she began to perform at Greenwich Village's smaller venues, such as the Cornelia Street Cafe - then a hotbed of aspiring writers, poets and folk performers. It was there she hooked up with Jack Hardy's songwriters co-operative and consequently had some of her earliest recordings released on vinyl albums under the auspices of the small-circulation Fast Folk Musical Magazine. Several of the songs that were first issued on these relatively obscure anthologies between February 1982 and May 1985, are reprised in this evening's set, including Cracking, Gypsy, Knight Moves, the Queen And the Soldier, Some Journey, Tom's Diner and Small Blue Thing. With high quality songwriting like this on display, it is little surprise that Suzanne was soon signed by a major label, A&M Records. Her debut album, produced by Lenny Kaye (of Patti Smith's band) and Steve Addabbo, was recorded during the first months of 1985 at Celestial Sound Studios in New York. With the exception of Tom's Diner - and Gypsy which closes this broadcast - both of which appeared on Suzanne's 1987 album, Solitude - all the above mentioned songs were re-recorded for inclusion on her debut. Tonight's performance includes that outstanding album in it's entirety, and thus there are also live versions of Freeze Tag, Marlene on the Wall (the video of which achieved heavy rotation on MTV and VH1), Undertow, Straight Lines and Neighborhood Girls. Suzanne Vega was a critical success in the USA and reached number 91 on the Billboard 200 chart; in the UK it reached number 11 - no mean feat for a debut album by a female solo artist in an era when the charts were dominated by men with risible haircuts playing synthesizers and drum machines. The record eventually achieved platinum status. Suzanne went on to garner huge global success, and when DNA's initially unauthorised remix of Tom's Diner became a major universal hit in 1990, she gained a whole new generation of fans. This delightful recording remains a timely reminder of where it all began, back in the bohemian environs of New York's Greenwich Village.
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