Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Concert Review: Josh Ritter @ 9:30 Club, Washington, DC- 2.14.2011

Last night, while jumping up and down and chanting "I thought I heard somebody calling/In the dark I thought I heard somebody call!" as Josh closed out his set sometime after 11PM on a Monday night, I had just one thought in my mind:  How on Earth could anyone in this room not be having the time of their life right now?!  And after three previous Josh Ritter concerts, I feel that I am now qualified to proclaim that it is impossible to have a bad time at a Josh Ritter show...Impossible!

Let's start with the whole premise of the evening.  I first heard about this particular show some time in November or December via email from Josh Ritter's website.  The email dubbed the show and the three preceeding shows as a "Valentine's Day Brawl."  Instantly, I had my Valentine's plans, as I knew Josh and the band would have something special up their sleeves.  They didn't disappoint.

The night started with Scott Hutchinson (from Frightened Rabbit).  Having just been introduced to Frightened Rabbit a couple months ago, I was very much looking forward to his performance.  With only his acoustic guitar Scott Hutchinson had the early arriving crowd's attention with his stripped down arrangements, his straight forward and frank lyrics, and his Scottish sense of humor.  For me, the highlight of his overall outstanding performance, was him singing "Backwards Walk."  Hutchinson's steady repetitive strumming coupled with his heart wrenching lyrics about letting go of a relationship instensified throughout the song!  As with any crowd during and opening act, the audience was a bit chatty.  However, during this particular song you could sense their attention progressively being drawn to the stage, until virtually all ears were tuned in as he repeated the song's knockout line, "You're the shit and I'm need deep in it."  Hopefully he'll be returning soon with his entire band.  I'll be in line for a ticket.

Now on to Josh.  As advertised, Valentine's Day was the muse of the evening.  The microphones and stands were wrapped in roses.  On a table to the left of the stage candles were burning.  Josh Ritter came out by himself, almost to the surprise of not only the audience but also the light and sound technicians.  As he started the first song of the night, "Come and Find Me," the lights still hadn't been brought down or his mic turned on.  But after a quick restart, and a whispered, "If I could trace the line that ran/Between your smile and your slight of hand/I would have guessed that you put something up my sleeve" the evening had officially started.  After his intimite opening, the rest of the band joined Josh Ritter on stage for "Good Man", and "Lillian, Egypt", both of which picked up the tempo of the show.

Now, like I said, this night was full of surprises.  The first surprise came 5 to 6 songs in when Josh introduced the "Cupid" for the night.  Josh Ritter and the Band asked their fans to submit dedications to be read aloud at the "Valentine's Day Brawl" shows.  Out came Cupid with a hat full of dedications!  This was a very creative and thoughtful idea to get the audience ever more involved.  The dedications included the hilarious (a love letter to Bassist Zack Hickman's handlebar mustache takes first prize), heartfelt (one particular message from a soldier overseas comes to mind) and a marriage proposal (she said yes)!  You won't find something like this at many shows these days!  Reason #1 you'll have a great time at a Josh Ritter show.

Other highlights of the night include solo performances of "The Temptation of Adam" and "Girl in the War" as well the performance of "Harrisburg."  For those not familar with "Harrisburgh", the band usually slows down about midway through and interludes into a cover.  Past renditions include "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" and "Wicked Game".  This time Josh sympathized with us singles in the crowd by discussing the irony in the advances of Western Civilization and our inability to understand human courtship.  Probably the funniest quote of the whole night came when he said, "It's a world in which man has touched the moon... but there are soooo many other things men would like to touch."  Then he sequed into "Once In A Lifetime" by the Talking Heads before returning to racous end to "Harrisburg."

Surprise #2 came when Josh Ritter's introduction to the song "Kathleen" started with the statement, "Now it's time for things to get awkward".  What followed was a slow dance accompanied by a stirring sax solo and enhanced with dim lights and a disco ball.  As you can imagine, it was a pretty cramped dance floor, as the show was sold out.  However, Teresa and I managed.  We even utilized Teresa's beer!  "Kathleen" is about Josh's prom in his home town in Idaho.  It's a fitting song for a slow dance.  Apparently, boys outnumbed girls by so much, that the boys would stand in line to dance with the girls.

Surprise #3 followed shortly after.  Prior to the show, folks at 9:30 club handed out glow sticks to everyone in attendance.  As the band performed "Lantern" the lights were dimmed, and everyone held their glow sticks high as Josh sang, "So if you've got the light/Hold it high for me."  I can only imagine what it looked like from the stage or the balcony.  It must have been an amazing scene.

The main set closed with "Change of Time" which highlights Josh Ritter's lyrical genious.  I can't believe I've gotten this far in the post without mentioning that Josh Ritter may be the best lyricist on the music scene.  Nearly every song is pure poetry.  This was a great closing to an amazingly diverse main set.  The encore began with a solo version of Josh Ritter's new song "Galahad" and ended with the band's energetic version of "To the Dogs or Whoever."

The two hours and change of music was a blur.  It was a great way to spend Valentine's night.  If you get a chance to see Josh Ritter live, I'd highly recommend it.  I can't phathom a situation in which your mood doesn't improved during the show.  If you could bottle Josh Ritter's enthusiasm and sell it as a pill, I'd guess the cases of mood related disorders would sharply decrease.

My concert fix has been met for now, but I'm already looking forward to the next show.

Thanks for reading!

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