Suzanne Vega concert
Saturday at 8 p.m.
Sixth & I Historic Synagogue
Also available at venue box office Saturday
Doors open at 7 p.m.
Suzanne Vega is in transition.
No longer a major label artist, she’s almost finished a two year project of re-recording much of her back catalogue for the “Close-Up” series, a four-part collection that, once it’s finished, will be a bit of a bookend to her career thus far and give her a chance to reclaim ownership of much of her past material made during an 18-year run with storied label A&M.
Grouped thematically, the first two volumes (“Love Songs” and “People & Places”) were released last year. She’s touring the third installment, “States of Being” now and plays Washington Saturday with a Washington Performing Arts Society concert at the Sixth & I Synagogue. When the final volume, “Songs of Family” is released (it’s slated for May), Vega will gather them in a box set. She says the ambitious undertaking was embarked on for both creative and practical reasons.
“I’d say it was about 50-50,” she says during a phone chat from her Big Apple home. “I had had the idea before with A&M and thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to release the songs by theme like a retrospective,’ and they were excited for that for like a minute and that mood passed … I was thinking this was something that fans would like. The productions have always gotten so much comment, it’s fun to think about what they sound like as intimate as possible but then it also happened to dovetail with something that I wanted to do for practical reasons.”
Vega says the way she’s grouped songs for the series has commonalities with the way she builds set lists for concerts. Some of the thematic groupings she used live spilled over into the sequencing she’s using for the “Close-Up” records.
“It is kind of a playlist mentality,” she says. “But I have no desire to recreate a moment. I don’t want to go back to 1987 or to try to recreate it. They’re being done with a very sort of different sonic texture and it’s kind of an answer to some who were freaked out or offended when I would do different things on different albums in the past. … It’s not really about being nostalgic, that’s not the point, but when you take them out of their original context and do them with different arrangements, it can feel like you’re hearing it for the first time.”
Heavily associating acts with the styles and genres in which they had their biggest radio successes is a U.S. phenomenon, she says. She admits it has been confining at times for her artistically.
“We’ve become so much more niche oriented here and you have subgenres within subgenres,” she says. “But in Europe, maybe I’ll be in the acoustic tent but anybody from Metallica to Beck to Bryan Adams could be on the main stage. In Europe they don’t have that kind of pigeonholing.”
Saturday’s concert will be relatively lean. Vega will be accompanied by another guitarist, her musical cohort Jerry Leonard. “He’s got the whole sonic thing going on, it’s pretty free form,” she says. Listen for her hits “Tom’s Diner” and “Luka” along with selections from “States of Being” such as “Cracking,” a cut from her first album she says was invigorating to revisit and reimagine.
After her many years with A&M — she remembers the label’s legendary A&R guru David Anderle fondly and said he became “a rather close friend” — and a two-year contract with Blue Note that released her 2007 album “Beauty & Crime,” she’s pragmatic about the transitions in the industry.
“At times, yeah, I do miss the old energy of walking into the record company president’s office and presenting him with something he was really excited about. Those were great days for me and I had a really great relationship with A&M, but I also had a sense that I knew one of these days, the gig would be up. I mean unless you’re Bob Dylan, and who knows, maybe even if you are Bob Dylan, it was one of those things where you knew the other shoe would drop one of these days. It’s a little too soon to say what all the effects will be for me, but I’ve been on my own label for about two years now and so far things are great.”
Saturday’s concert is her last of the year. She plans a trip to Asia in January then more East Coast touring, then a break.
Vega, who’s straight, says she was amused by speculation about her sexual orientation early in her career.
“I think people wondered about me a little from the way I dressed,” she says. “Of course now that I’ve been married twice, I think they’ve kind of figured it out.”