Local boy done good Martyn Joseph reveals himself to be a somewhat tougher proposition than a man who once released a single entitled Dolphins Make Me Cry might be expected to represent. Performing solo and acoustic save for two closing songs on which hes joined by members of Suzanne Vegas band his music is soaked in vitriol and indignation but seems to be smeared with a vagueness that slightly blunts its attack, whether hes discussing prostitution or Bosnia, capping the obvious intensity he feeds into his performance. Though parochial numbers such as Sunday Over Cardiff Bay might sound rousing in this hometown venue (performing the song with a band for the first time, the overwhelmed author jumbles the words and just like Bob Dylan in the latest Bootleg Series volume begins the song again after being showered with corrections by the audience) they neatly, and perhaps cruelly, encapsulate just why Joseph isnt yet a household name, 15 or more years into his career.
Tonight sticking closely to a greatest hits set template marked out by her recent Retrospective compilation, Suzanne Vega nevertheless makes good on an observation made during a 1987 interview when she admonished artists who made no comment on their songs for putting on performances that were no different to an evening spent at home listening to their records. Amongst other things that couldnt be gleaned by spending some time in solitary confinement with her back catalogue we learn that the luxuriant Gypsy was written for a Liverpudlian lover she met whilst trying to teach Leonard Cohen songs to young girls whose idea of folk music leaned closer to Leavin On A Jet Plane whilst working as a summer camp tutor as a teenager, (Ill Never Be) Your Maggie Mae was written as a feminist riposte to the Rod Stewart song and that Solitaire is about playing Solitaire on a computer late at night, no more, no less.
Her compact backing band (just guitar, bass and percussion; surprisingly no keyboards are used, although a sequenced rhythmic clatter is summoned up from somewhere on the few occasions its required) are equally adept at the slinky, sensual jazz of Caramel and the softened industrial of Blood Makes Noise. There are a few surprising covers as well, including a compelling, surprisingly successful version of The Whos Behind Blue Eyes. Perhaps inevitably proceedings close on a singalong version of Toms Diner.
Despite suggestions from my companions that the evening was slightly undercut by the sequencing of the setlist, I felt the concert repaid my crash course cramming of Ms Vegas catalogue (before the idea of attending was floated my collection of her albums petered out with 1987s Solitude Standing). She might not be the most animated of live performers, but she puts on a warmer, more good-natured evenings entertainment that her sometimes inscrutable, slightly cold-blooded music might lead you to expect.