Loyal Suzanne Vega fans braved the 50-year flood Thursday to fill the Wiltern Theatre, enthusiastic in their support of A&M’s fragile singer-songwriter. Only Vega wasn’t simply a frail flower onstage; she actually rocked.
And while the alternative hit “Blood Makes Noise,” with its rhythmic sampling and percussive bottom (Lindsay Buckingham would have put it on “Tusk” in a heartbeat) is a wonderful piece, Vega makes an equal impact when she’s simply singing over an acoustic guitar. In fact, the highlight of the set was her a cappella rendition of “Tom’s Diner,” with the audience providing the beat and the “doot-do-do-doot” from DNA’s hit remix.
The problem with this 90-minute show, though, was that Vega spent too little time at the forceful ends of her spectrum, and mostly diddled around in the middle. Drowned out by a band somewhat lacking in the oomph department, Vega weighted her show with neither-here-nor-there numbers like “In Liverpool” and “(If You Were) in My Movie”– the latter featuring a guest appearance by producer Mitchell Froom. Even guest Richard Thompson added nothing but a flash solo to “As Girls Go,” another number from the “99.9 Fahrenheit Degrees” album.
Yet the title cut “99.9” itself was hot; the propulsive “Blood Sings” sang; and “When Heroes Go Down” went down fine, thanks. And Vega herself is a likable performer, facing her fans in a simple crop-top and scrubbed face. She chatted about her unlikely childhood in East Harlem (the strawberry-blonde singer thought she was Puerto Rican until she was nine), making the audience feel comfortable enough to shout out suggestions, encouragement and back talk.
People talk about Vega as a writer of intensely personal songs. More precisely, she writes songs that are extremely specific. And they mustn’t be allowed to disappear into the mix.
Label-mate Kitchens of Distinction, on the other hand, are all texture and layer. Think of them as the Catherine Wheel on speed — there’s lots of melody, and it’s very LOUD. The British power trio put on an appealing set to open the evening, thanks mainly to frontman Patrick Fitzgerald’s inviting personality. Fitzgerald — one of few pop songwriters to deal openly with serious gay themes — is one of those performers who’s as much fun when he’s talking as when he’s singing.