Friday, June 27, 2008

Concert Report - The Roches in Portsmouth, NH

The Roches, June 22, 2008

There is something magical about the vocal harmonies produced by siblings. Is it the genetics, or from a lifetime of singing together, or some combination of both? Ah, it doesn't matter, it just is. And for me, sisters Maggie, Terre and Suzzy (rhymes with "fuzzy") Roche are at the top of the family harmony heap. Known collectively as The Roches, they have been performing and releasing albums for more than 30 years, with a style uniquely their own.

Patti and I saw them play at the lovely Unitarian Universalist Church in Portsmouth, NH, last Sunday, June 22. Also known as the Stone Church, this church was built in 1824 to 1826. With an impressively high ceiling and a massive pipe organ behind the altar, it is the kind of space that just cannot be found in a modern building. Not to mention fantastic acoustics.

Unitarian Universalist Church, Portsmouth, NH
Unitarian Universalist Church, Portsmouth, NH

The Roches have a long history with Paul Simon, dating back to the early 70s when Maggie and Terre were backup singers on his There Goes Rhymin' Simon (1973) album. Paul also produced Maggie and Terre's debut album, Seductive Reasoning, in 1975. More recently, all three sisters joined Paul for five nights of concerts in April during his month-long residency at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. This recent experience is clearly still lingering, as they included three of Paul's songs in their hour and a half set. First up was the somewhat somber "Another Galaxy", then the humorous but metaphorical "Pigs, Sheep and Wolves", and then towards the end of the set the classic and oft covered "American Tune".

The concert started with "Gung Ho", a tornado of a song from their newest album, Moonswept. This was followed immediately with the crowd pleasing "We", one of their signature pieces. The very first song on their very first album as a trio, "We" is a catchy introduction to the group:

We are Maggie and Terre and Suzzy
Maggie and Terre and Suzzy Roche
we don't give out our ages
and we don't give out our phone numbers
give out our phone numbers
sometimes our voices give out
but not our ages and our phone numbers

The crowd responded with delight at this well known favorite, and the prospect of hearing more of our favorite vocal harmonic acrobatics. There's a pretty decent clip of "We" performed at the 2006 Philly Folk Festival on YouTube. Go watch it.

"No Shoes", written by Paranoid Larry, is a new addition to their repertoire, but it is so classically "Roches" that it could easily be an old favorite. Once again, YouTube to the rescue.

Other standouts included the wonderful "Hammond Song", which may be the best showcase of their vocal harmony (YouTube clip from 1983), and "ing", with the chorus repeating the "ing" phrase as if their voices were hand bells (YouTube clip from 1991).

But the absolute highlight of the night was their classic a cappella version of the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's Messiah.. Their three-part arrangement of this is nothing short of stunning, particularly when sung in a church that is more than 150 years old. The audience gave a thunderous standing ovation in appreciation. If you don't view any of the YouTube clips I link, go and view at least this one from 1982. You won't be disappointed.

Since Patti and I were sitting in the first row, not more than 10 feet from the microphone stands, I was able to grab Suzzy's set list after the show. Here's a scan of it. (Yea, she mis-dated it as July! Must have been the hot weather.)

Roches set list, June 22, 2008

Gung Ho
Another Galaxy (Paul Simon)
The Long Lonely Road to Nowhere
Only You Know How
One Season
No Shoes (Paranoid Larry)
The Train
A Prayer (words by Bill Barbeau, music by Maggie)
Hammond Song
Pigs, Sheep and Wolves (Paul Simon)
September Eleventh at the Shambhala Center
Clothes Line Saga (Bob Dylan)
Hallelujah Chorus
American Tune (Paul Simon)
Jesus Shaves (Paranoid Larry)
Encore: Yakety Yak (The Coasters)

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