Say what you will about rain pouring down for hours on a free outdoor concert with no roof over the audience: It quickly separates the casual looky-loos from the dedicated attendees. For proof, look no further than the Saturday evening program for the inaugural Boston Summer Arts Weekend. The weather may have chased away the bulk of the crowd by the time the two closing acts took the stage, but a small, committed (and wet) crowd remained in Copley Square to cheer them on.
Had the weather held up, Suzanne Vega’s announced plan to play the entirety of her 1987 album “Solitude Standing” from start to finish might have been an odd fit for a festival crowd. But the diehard fans who endured the rain turned out to be the ideal audience for a setlist meant to appease diehard fans. With her two biggest hits — “Tom’s Diner” and “Luka” — dispatched right away, Vega burrowed into the lesser-known songs that make up the rest of her breakthrough record. She estimated that she hadn’t played some of them, like “In the Eye,” in 25 years.
With her cerebral poesy, Vega could come across as emotionally cool, and it took a few songs for her voice to stand out from the music. But her band provided supple support throughout, from the deceptively spiraling “Language” to Doug Yowell’s light-touch drums on “Night Vision” and “Calypso.” Vega herself let her hair down after the album’s end, letting guitar chaos fuel “Blood Makes Noise” and tossing a funky kick into “Tombstone” and a Soul Rebels-augmented full-band reprise of “Tom’s Diner.”
A funky kick was a given for the Soul Rebels’ own set. The New Orleans brass band came up for air only twice in the first 35 minutes, with one song segueing into the next, the better to keep the party rolling. A band has to be incredibly tight to play so loose; at one point, there was nothing but two drums, sousaphone, and five guys singing, rapping, and chanting in a complex polyrhythm.
The rest of the time, the horns played fluid lines in unison, with sousaphonist Edward Lee filling in the gaps like a secret lead instrument. During the rollicking finale of Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This,” the stage lights went off to signal the end. The Soul Rebels played through it.
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