May 1, 2014
Lucy Wainright Roche’s performance in the last CAB acoustic coffeehouse of the year had every reason to be boring; except, it wasn’t.
Unlike most other headlining coffeehouse acts, Roche didn’t have the dynamic, textural and visual power of a band. Except for a sing-along, Roche performed alone, accompanying her vocals with acoustic guitar. She performed almost all slow, melody-driven ballads in major keys.
The singer played a number of songs from her most recent album, There’s A Last Time For Everything, including “Seek and Hide,” “Take What You’re Given” and her popular cover of Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend.” Occasionally, one wished that she had the same support she had on the recordings, drums to move the beat along or vocalists to increase the range of sound, but Roche had a gimmick-free good voice, small though plaintive, with a fascinating whispering quality.
She sounded nearly as good as the recording with the freshness of live performance.
Still, it was her personality that really made the show fun. When she first came onstage, she looked shy or perhaps uninterested. And after her first song, she took people aback by asking simply, “Does anyone have any questions?” Audience members asked a range of questions ,and she asked one as well. “So, tell me about Hamilton,” Roche inquired. After successive songs, she asked, “What else can you tell me about Hamilton?” Her persistence was hilarious and, frankly, endearing. She told stories about being on tour with her well-known brother, Rufus Wainwright, and quipped that the audience had only come for the family name. In the midst of a sing-along of Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart,” she stopped after the second chorus, launching into a story about the difficulties of getting a Lithuanian audience to sing along (the audience only got excited when she said the word ‘basketball’). She lightly criticized us for being similarly quiet, and the audience finished the song with her in a hearty unison.
Her open, slyly comedic personality kept her set from monotony. Her songs sounded more-or-less similar through the entire night, but the conversation with the audience in between songs helped maintain the novelty of her singing. She launched into her songs effortlessly, talking all the way until she hit the first chord. She presented more than her music; she presented herself, and it was charming. Besides, everyone likes a slow, acoustic cover of “Call Your Girlfriend,” even if, she warned us, the lyrics are bad advice.