A slice of New York came to the Southbank Centre last weekend as the Meltdown Festival drew to a close; this year, Robert Smith from The Cure has curated an interesting mix of musicians, and it was good to share the first date of Vega’s international tour – taking in Dubai, Australia, New Zealand, and back to the UK – with an appreciative audience at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.
Image credit: Virginie Viche, The Upcoming
Vega made her first impact on folk music in 1985, with her first self-titled album, containing the single Marlene on the Wall, which she obligingly performed with the Dietrich hat firmly in place. Now a woman in late middle age, Vega is immaculate, with a black trouser suit, glittery boots, and a lot of attitude, sparring with her guitarist, Gerry Leonard, who knows a lot about accompanying legends, having worked for years alongside the late David Bowie. He’s also known for creating clever waves of sound which make the stage feel far more full than it is.
In a varied and interesting set, Vega shared both hits and pet songs with us, including her other big hit, Luka, her story song The Queen and the Soldier, the rockers Blood Makes Noise and I Never Wear White, the sweet ballads Small Blue Thing and Gypsy, and much more. She engages with her audience, too: many artists do not really talk, but she conspires, teases, and exudes a warmth I didn’t expect.
A very accomplished night was started by her support act, James Walsh of Starsailor, who impressed with Empire and If I Had The Words. He made me think of Layne Staley at times with his vocals, and of Uriah Heep with the sheer sweep of his melodies. Neither a bad thing.