Reprinted from late editions of Saturday's Globe.
SOMERVILLE - It has toured the world and been the subject of an immensely well-received recent documentary, but Friday night the Northampton-based Young@Heart Chorus made its long-overdue debut in the Boston area. Director Bob Cilman promised it wouldn't be the last and that's good news for any local concertgoers who've ever questioned the axiom that age ain't nothing but a number.
The 27-voice strong choir - average age 80 - brought a capacity crowd at Somerville Theatre to its feet several times with a tremendously vivacious two-act, 80-minute performance that was the physical embodiment of the group's name as its members dove into a diverse group of rock and soul covers with skill, humor, and pathos.
Following a video montage detailing its exploits over the last 25 years - complete with clips from MTV and "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" - the choir appeared behind the screen, easing quietly into the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want." Louise Canady then stepped forward to sing about getting her prescription filled at the Chelsea drugstore, making clear that deep soul and winking humor are not mutually exclusive.
Canes and wheelchairs may have been present onstage but they didn't prevent any of the vocalists from shaking their groove thing with gusto at the appropriate moments during renditions of James Brown's "(I Got You) I Feel Good," featuring the spunky stand-out Dora B. Morrow, or Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love."
But the show wasn't just about the warm fuzzies raised by the group's sass and bold example of resilience or the giggles enjoyed while watching the performers bounce through "I Wanna Be Sedated" or transform the underlying subtext of Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" from a psychedelic acid trip to the onset of dementia. These folks can really sing. (And it must be noted their five-piece band can really play, re-creating wildly disparate styles from Queen to Sonic Youth.)
Pat Linderme hit beautiful highs on a dreamy version of Radiohead's "Fake Plastic Trees," and the harmonies on Talking Heads' "Heaven," the best of the night, were sublime.
The group also isn't afraid of a few barbs. It took a poke at the current administration by changing some of the lyrics of Queen's "Bicycle Race" - swapping "Vietnam or Watergate" for "Iraq or Iran or anything else on Bush's plate."
The night ended much as it began with the group tenderly intoning the opening lines of Bob Dylan's "Forever Young." When the members burst into fist-raised defiance at the passage of time, the truly all-ages crowd hollered jubilantly in solidarity.