The four signs saying "Occupancy Limited to 30 Persons" were taken more as a suggestion than command last Saturday at the Postcrypt Coffeehouse in the basement of St. Paul's Chapel. Postcrypt, the no-cover, on-campus venue, is probably Morningside Heights' most intimate performing space. On Saturday, the soft yellow lighting, rusted pipes, and stone walls of the space were honored by the presence of famed folk singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega, BC '81. Vega, who performed with fellow folk musicians Bob Hillman and Tim Robinson, drew nearly 100 people to Postcrypt, leaving many to sit on the floor, stand in the back, or even perch in the stairwell to listen.
Vega, most famous for her singles "Tom's Diner," and "Luka," has been playing at Postcrypt since her days at Barnard and still returns on occasion. The anxious crowd was, by Postcrypt standards, nearly going mad with anticipation for her to begin. Yet Vega did not hog the spotlight; as in her previous performance in March 2003, she played in a round-robin format with Hillman, another Postcrypt veteran, and Robinson.
Those who have been lucky enough to see Vega previously at Postcrypt know that she unfailingly plays "Tom's Diner," the wistful musing on a rainy November morning at Morningside Heights own Tom's. But during Saturday's show, it was the songs she played on the way to that destination that really made the performance work. Postcrypt is blessed with acoustics that don't require an amp to hear nuances, allowing Vega, with her careful renditions of her detailed songs, to shine. Particular highlights included her first song, "Caramel" (from 1996's Nine Objects of Desire), and "The Queen and the Soldier," from her 1985 self-titled debut. Vega took requests as varied as "Gypsy" and "Rusted Pipe" from the audience, who clearly knew their own favorites.
Hillman was no less impressive with his work, which relies on wry wordplay and upbeat orchestrations for amusement. More than a few audience members knew the words to "Tolstoy"--a ballad about the famous 19th-century Russian author as related to a club encounter--and "Bolted Down," which sardonically paints New Yorkers as lovable maniacs who can't leave the city for they have nowhere else to go.
Robinson was the least popular performer, but through no fault of his own; nearly anyone playing next to Suzanne Vega could be pardoned for not making a huge impact on the audience. His songs, though not particularly memorable, were characterized by a generally quiet air and flowing instrumentals.
Still, Vega was clearly the reason that most attendees came to Postcrypt, and she did not disappoint. As the evening wound down to its close, she laid down her guitar at her feet, turned to the expecting audience, and softly sang the opening lines of "Tom's Diner." On cue, all the attendees whispered back the chorus, and as Vega made her musical journey from Tom's to the bells of the cathedral, even the crowd couldn't keep her from singing clearly.