Lest anyone forget the family part of Christmas, The Roches brought their The Roches WIth A Holiday Twist Christmas show to City Winery Monday night, and if it was scaled down a bit from the annual Roches Christmas shows that were so much a part of Decembers at the old Bottom Line, it definitely focused on family.
The central three Roche sisters–Maggie, Terre and Suzzy–started it off in fine form, their ethereal harmonies intact on “We Three Kings,” from their cherished 1990 Christmas collection of the same name. But kooky comedian Suzzy, who required emergency treatment earlier for laryngitis, played off the “gloom” in the song’s verse about myrrh’s “bitter perfume” by grabbing a string of bells from her microphone stand and switching directly to “Jingle Bells.”
The trio then turned to early, secular Roches classics including “Big Nuthin’,” about how things that are supposed to be big end up being “big nuthin'”–though they did get a big song out of it, full of exquisitely overlapping vocal parts. “We” followed, the first song from first album The Roches (1979), and while they still don’t give out their age and phone numbers (in keeping with the lyric), they still delight and enchant.
Back to We Three Kings, “Winter Wonderland,” with its impenetrable Joizy, er, Jersey accents, joyously harked back to The Roches’ New Jersey upbringing prior to their move to Greenwich Village. “We don’t really do a lot of love songs,” Suzzy said afterwards, leading into “One Season,” an old Roches song written after “a romantic thing fizzled out–but before any hatred set in.” It was marked by the sisters’ beautiful acoustic country guitar play.
After an a cappella performance of Terre’s “Star Of Wonder” from the Christmas album, younger brother David Roche came out, bringing his adorable 15 year-old daughter Oona. As Roche & Father, they proffered Mark Knopfler’s “Sailing To Philadelphia,” Oona excelling on fuzz-toned electric guitar. They stayed out to close the first half with The Roches on a new song, “Waning Cats And Dogs”–Suzzy having explained that the sisters all have aging pets.
More guests emerged after the break, starting with Suzzy’s daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche, who sweetly followed her mother’s comment about being sick of Christmas (after all, Suzzy said, it started on Halloween) with “In The Bleak Midwinter.” Her father Loudon Wainwright III came next with another 19th Century hymn, “Beautiful,” from his Grammy-winning album High Wide & Handsome: The Charlie Poole Project.
An exquisite a cappella chorus of “Hallelujah” from The Roches (Suzzy’s emergency shot to treat her laryngitis had clearly taken effect), and an acoustic guitar-backed “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and Suzzy related the sober story about her 2002 album with Maggie, Zero Church. The disc put to original music prayers collected from other sources, including a Vietnam vet whose “A Prayer,” which the two sisters sang, was a contrite confession and acceptance of responsibility for “having killed a lot of people for no good reason.”
Whimsically expressing the hope that the show would inspire others to call up their own siblings and start a band, Suzzy closed fittingly with the Roches’ 2007 album Moonswept‘s “Jesus Shaves,” in which He joins corporate America. Encore “Silver Bells,” which closes We Three Kings, filled the stage with 17 singers including Loudon’s sister Sloan Wainwright, her singer-songwriter son Sam McTavey, and even The Roches mom–who would have to earn her keep by selling Roches CDs after the show, said Suzzy. So it was three generations of Roches together, along with two of Wainwrights, making for what has become one of the most significant extended families in comtemporary folk/singer-songwriter music.
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