For a folk singer, Josh Ritter puts on one helluva rock and roll show. Actually, that statement doesn’t need a qualifier-he puts on a great show regardless of genre. Last night at The Vic was no different than the previous five times I’ve seen him. His show is around 90 minutes of unadulterated good times. Even when he’s singing a sad, slow ballad you feel so connected to him that it’s fun just to be in the same room. After a two year break from Chicago, the local fans were in a frenzy before the show.
Josh took the stage solo for the first song, thanking the sold out crowd for coming out before launching into a beautiful rendition of “Idaho.” We got an early look at one of his favorite show moves, which is to point the mic down and sing from his knees up toward the heavens. He pulled it out again later, but it wasn’t as effective as this moment.
After that he started playing “Southern Pacifica” acoustically. He was slowly joined by the rest of the band-first Sam Kassirer, then Austin Nevins, Zachariah Hickman, and Liam Hurley. The first three minutes of the song were a pretty faithful version of the album track, but toward the end it exploded into a trippy jam led by Nevins’ guitar solo. I don’t remember this one getting a big arrangement last time I saw the band, but it was a cool change that made the song about two minutes longer.
Next we got “Hopeful,” the first of eight songs in the set from the new album The Beast In Its Tracks. This is my favorite of the new songs, and the live version was perfectly executed. The crowd seemed to really respond to the latest tunes. Most of the people around me seemed to know all the words and wanted to belt them out.
There were a couple long talking periods where Josh would talk about the city of Chicago and its past (leading up to “Lillian, Egypt” and “The Curse”). Later he talked about the background of TBIIT and how angry he was at marriage for a while. He came to realize that it wasn’t marriage that was bad, it’s wonderful. And anyone who wants to get married should be able to. Well, if you know Chicago you know that those words went over very, very well.
This show was the band’s 14th in 15 days, but there were no signs of wearing down. They all looked like they were having a blast up there, and probably could have played all night if they were allowed. The set went back and forth between new and old. Four songs came from The Animal Years and three from Historical Conquests. “Harrisburg” was not played, which is a huge disappointment because that song is amazing live (if you haven’t seen it, they always segue in and out of a cover in the middle-“Tiny Cities Made Of Ashes” by Modest Mouse was a great one).
Josh Ritter might be the best performer in the world right now. His energy is so infectious he can make even the most stoic audience groove. The band, together now for close to a decade, is as tight as they come. And more importantly they are having fun. I can’t recommend catching a show enough. This was my sixth, and I already can’t wait for the seventh!
Joy To You
Apple Blossom Rag (Ritter & Hickman)
Temptation Of Adam (solo)
In The Dark (solo-no lights)
Snow Is Gone
In Your Arms Again
To The Dogs Or Whoever
For more pics from the show, including a few of the opener (Sea Wolf’s Alex Brown Church), head over to our Facebook page and check out the album.