Meegan Closner crooned “stay awake” at the opening of Joseph’s concert at the Madrid Theatre on Wednesday. Her advisement might have seemed like a dare to members of the audience of about 300 who were only familiar with the hushed songs on the Portland based ensemble’s two albums.
While the trio of Natalie Closner and her younger twin sisters Allison and Meegan began as a sedate folk group, Wednesday’s outing demonstrated that Joseph has considerably broadened its sound. Rather than subdued coffeehouse fare, the sisters and a three-piece backing band doled out an invigorating 70-minute feast of folk, pop, rock and soul.
The rousing family harmonies at the core of Joseph’s appeal weren’t obscured by its stylistic expansion. The trio’s voices intertwined on the sultry “Canyon” before Natalie broke away from her siblings with the sort of formidable wailing associated with Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin. Joseph’s affinity for the classic rock of the 1970s was corroborated by a sublime cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Moonlight Mile.”
The soaring vocals on “Planets” captured the sepia-toned harmonies of Crosby, Stills & Nash. Yet Joseph isn’t stuck in the past. Even without the application of synthesizers, a jubilant rendition of “SOS (Overboard)” was a slice of dance-pop perfection.
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Kelsey Kopecky, a Nashville-based artist whose opening set was imbued with gleefully rudimentary naiveté, joined Joseph for an elated version of the Ariana Grande hit “Dangerous Woman” that Natalie explained was in recognition of International Women’s Day.
Several of Joseph’s original songs are also about self-affirmation. The tenacious “White Flag” acted as an explosive blast of positive thinking. “Blood & Tears” was introduced as “a song about being proud of the hard work you’ve done.”
Joseph only faltered on a ragged but undeniably fun interpretation of “Reach Out (I’ll Be There).” The twins’ lyric sheets and the band’s awkward syncopation indicated that the Four Tops gem might not have been rehearsed.
Joseph didn’t completely forsake its austere roots. Accentuated by a graceful pedal steel guitar solo, a reading of the doleful “Tell Me There’s a Garden” showcased the sisters’ stunning harmonies.
The concert concluded with the extreme dynamics of the original composition “Sweet Dreams.” Rather than serving as a farewell lullaby, “Sweet Dreams” acted as a loud wake-up call from an unexpectedly vibrant band.