Used to the living-room intimacy of the small-club circuit, the Roches, a wry trio of singing sisters from New Jersey, complained frequently to the sold-out Lisner Auditorium Saturday that they felt too far removed from their audience. Perhaps that distance explained their oddly listless performance.
Though dressed in their usual motley outfits, the Roches toned down their school-girl silliness and showed more restraint, though their winsome charm and startlingly rich harmonies reached across the expanse time and again.
Led by spokesister Suzzy, who struck a series of gawky marionette poses, the trio connected most often with their spare vignettes of discordant relationships. Other highlights included their crowd-pleasing arrangement of Handel's "Messiah" chorus for three voices, and "The Troubles," about a trip to Ireland in which the sisters hypnotically chanted three words in fugue form -- the Roches' equivalent of a drum solo.
It seems the Roches want to leave cult-group status and are making a step toward more broad-based appeal, playing bigger halls and adding electronic drum patterns and synth embellishments to their folk-based songs. Libby McLaren added a human touch to the electro accompaniment, but whenever the sisters launched into one of their new souped-up numbers, it was as if a screen had dropped between them and their audience.