Concert Review: The Roches (Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Troy, New York, March 1, 1996)

Roches shows usually feel like family affairs. Yes, that may seem a patently obvious statement given that Maggie, Terre and Suzzy Roche are sisters, but there’s more to it than that; the shows feel like extended family reunions. The sisters play the roles of slightly disreputable cousins who, undaunted by the tasks of the crabby dowager aunt, went to the city to find their fortunes — and succeeded. The audience serves as the kith and kin who assemble whenever the cousins are in town to hear their city stories and see their city slide shows. The family has heard most of the stories before — but because they are so bashfully fond of their ever-so-just-like-us representatives in the world beyond, it doesn’t matter. Roches shows are warm, fuzzy and a little bit schmaltzy — but they usually satisfy and resonate deeply in ways that few other live music (or even a real family reunion) events can.

The Roches concert at the wonderfully intimate Troy Savings Bank Music Hall was no exception to the general rule of familial satisfaction; the audience was as rapt and effusive as the Roches were relaxed and self-deprecatory. The music was, well, Roches music — wonderful singing, lyrics ranging from the comic to the cosmic, simple backing on guitar (by all three sisters) and keyboards. The sisters’ distinctive harmonies come from blending three completely separate and unique voices that seem to somehow defy both nature and nurture; Maggie, Terre and Suzzy don’t even have the same speaking accents, much less the same vocal ranges and techniques.

The Roches’ vocal strength-in-disparity was most evident on their astounding a capella “Hallelujah Chorus.” Terre held the highest notes in her clear needle-like tone, Maggie provided grounding with her velvety soft contralto, and Suzzy danced between both her older siblings and the alto/soprano registers with her effortlessly physical voice. Another magic singing moment came during Terre’s “Ing” when the sisters’ vocal interplay made them sound like a human glass harmonica — each sister expressed the title syllable in a single note, but by rapidly cutting and cross-cutting between the notes, they created strange and wonderful chords.

Stage and instrumental support for the vocals was equally entertaining. During Maggie’s laud to laundry, “My Winter Coat,” Suzzy brought out the subject garment and displayed its features, game-show style. While the Roches’ song style didn’t lend itself to instrumental showboatery, Terre’s guitar skills shone; her lead lines were creative, tight and always contributed to a song’s forward progress, particularly during Suzzy’s “Move.” Some of the pre-recorded rhythm tracks might have sounded cheesy in other surroundings — but goofy boom-chicka-boom tracking worked just fine, in support of a goofy song about a winter coat.

During their encore, Maggie provided guitar support during an ode to the Roches’ favorite historical personage (“Rip Van Winkle”) and the audiences’ seemingly favorite historical Roches song (“Hammond Song,” from their 1978 debut album). Before “Hammond,” Suzzy queried the audience on its choice for a closing number; she got a mixed response and counseled that, “If you don’t get what you want…then just pretend that you’re getting it.”

I pretended that the show went on for another two hours but, alas, fantasy could only get me so far.

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