Suzanne Vega Waterfront Hall, Belfast

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The Independent Culture
It's hard to fault Suzanne Vega on a professional level: it's a case of what she does, she does well; she's good if you like that sort of thing; admirable if not loveable. And so on. That Luka - a UK No 1 in 1987 - remains her biggest hit, and the "big finish" number in the current live show, is fairly telling: it's also her most successful stab at putting a bit of everyday, easy-to-grasp humanity into her writing.

The new album, Nine Objects of Desire, is titled like a mid-Eighties Sting album - which should say something about the literary aspiration of the lyrics - and has been hailed as top-notch stuff. It's certainly a clever shift of emphasis in the production department, completing a 10-year drift from Greenwich Village folkie to a kind of Greenwich Village Kraftwerk tempered with audience banter and a bit of actual movement onstage but, really, what's it all about?

She tells us what the song "Rock in His Pocket" is not about: "A song about David as in Goliath," she tells us, "not about the size of a penis, as an English journalist supposed." Ripples of laughter. "I'll let you know when songs like that come along..." Of course, they don't. It must be said that Vega is a confident and, yes, loveable performer on an individual level - sharing anecdotes about her last visit here seven years ago; dancing with a handful of diehards at the front; and succeeding in establishing a commanding stage presence in Belfast's newest, most architecturally self-obsessed but atmospherically challenged music venue. Ironic, given the near architectural precision of her own works and the stark, industrial clatter of her band. Playing almost all of the new album, with the notable exceptions of its two most melodic, accessible tracks "Lolita" and the raffishly witty "Honeymoon Suite", the arrangements were kept close to the recordings. Where there was extemporising, it tended to involve guitarist Steve Donnelly exercising his Robert Fripp canon of electronic jiggery- pokery - no bad thing, but more grist to the "admirable if not loveable" mill.

Old faves like "Marlene on the Wall" and "Small Blue Thing" were not ignored, and right throughout her 23-song set - mostly comprising very early and very recent material - Vega kept the show fresh, varying the sonic textures subtly yet enough to maintain interest, throwing in a few surprises like two completely new and as yet unrecorded songs. All well and good, but in the final analysis one would have had to already love Suzanne Vega to feel truly satisfied and emotionally enriched by her obtuse, wordy perambulations, her sinewy compositional structures and her relatively limited melodic range. Fine, if you like that sort of thing.

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