Roma di Luna at the Cedar, 12/19/10

Roma di Luna at the Minnesota Zoo last summer
Roma di Luna at the Minnesota Zoo last summer
Photo by Stacy Schwartz

Roma di Luna Christmas Show
December 19, 2010
Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis

Roma di Luna's annual Christmas show at the Cedar last night was a divine treat for all who were lucky enough to snag tickets to the very sold-out performance. Wife-husband duo Channy and Alexei Moon Casselle and their sometimes four, sometimes six-person backing band delivered an intimate night of precious moments and with some holiday flavor.

Kicking off the first half of their two-hour set with "Rockin' Round the Christmas Tree," the multi-generational crowd at the Cedar was immediately captivated by the band's earnest songs and the humble way in which they were offered up to the audience. The evening was filled with a smattering of holiday classics and a selection of new songs from Roma di Luna's third album, Then The Morning Came. This group's Christmas concert typically sells out the Cedar relatively quickly--this year, their acclaimed October-released LP surely accelerated ticket sales, as well as their recent performance as the openers for Mavis Staples at the Cedar.

But for all the buzz and all the praise, Roma di Luna is as salt-of-the-earth as it gets. Their neo-soul, jazz-indie style is exquisite yet approachable, like a pearl encased in an oyster. Channy's voice is vintage like lace, delicate and soft, yet it resonates with the emotion of what seems like a lifetime of sorrow and joy. Further, her connection to Alexei and their on-stage chemistry is palpable; there is a muted energy linking the two of them. Channy clearly feels at home with the rest of her band, as she and Alexei were joined at various points in the evening by phenomenally talented Martin Devaney on saxophone, Michael Rossetto on banjo, Ben Durrant on guitar, James Everest on bass, Ryan Lovan on drums, and Jessi Prusha on keyboard and backup vocals. The familial sense that the band shared on stage made the music that much stronger. Alexei, too, showcased the richness of his voice on tunes like "Mars", written for his late great-grandmother. Where Channy's vocals are soft and plush, Alexei's voice spreads around like deep roots--in more ways than one, he is the grounding force for Channy's aerial aura.

There were plenty other little treasures in the course of the evening, including a brand new song from Channy titled "Wandering Star," which was about "being a lady," as Channy put it--and all those difficult things ladies sometimes encounter. The song was so new not even the band had learned it yet--Channy and Everest remained on stage, and while Channy started in on the Portishead-inspired tune, Everest played a drum machine for the beats and strummed his guitar. Then, towards the end of the second set, for the song "Plans," the entire band shuffled off stage except for Channy and Lovan, and Channy took a seat at the piano near the rear of the stage with her back to the audience and broke into the delicate and naked-sounding tune. "That's the first time I've ever played piano in public," she bashfully announced to the audience afterwards, as the rest of the band filed back on stage. "For anyone who's interested, that's how I write my songs..."

The encore was a special treat. Following a lover's song, "Lonely Hearts," Channy dipped off stage as Alexei riled the crowd with jibes about Santa Claus--and then Channy reappeared, clad in a red Santa suit for a version of "Santa Claus Is Coming!" that was as rollicking and infectious as it was well-played and arranged.

The most touching and cherished portion of the show, however, was the sincerity and gratitude that always seems to pervade the mood of a Roma di Luna performance. "I'm so happy to see you all here," said Channy in her quiet way, smiling gently at the audience. "It breaks my heart... in a good way."

An accurate way to remember Roma di Luna's music--utterly heartbreaking, but as beautiful as snowy sunset on Christmas Eve.

Critic's Bias: I have been in love with Roma di Luna since I first heard "These Tears Ain't Mine" on the Current three years ago and started crying. (I am a mess. I know. I can openly admit to this.)
The Crowd: Age-spanning and very pleased, though fairly quiet--perhaps because the majority of the audience was sitting down.
Overheard In The Crowd: "Beautiful," "lovely," etc. Multiple sighs of contentment and awe.
Random Notebook Dump: The band also performed a shimmering version of Joni Mitchell's "River." Channy's voice appropriately captured the sadness of the song perfectly.

Rockin' Round the Christmas Tree
Blue Christmas
Hey Lover
Circle Round The Sun
Wandering Star
Let It Snow
Drop A Penny
Red Walls
Before I Die
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
Lonely Hearts
Santa Claus Is Coming!

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