Last night was the ninth time I’ve seen Josh Ritter live, including solo and live band sets. Each time I’m overwhelmed by the quality of his songwriting. One thing that’s changed over the years, though, is the trust he has in the band backing him up. Since the departure of Austin Nevins, and the arrival of his replacement Josh Kaufman, the shows feel looser. I thought Nevins was a great guitarist, but it’s obvious Kaufman fits better with Ritter’s vision for the Royal City Band.
Last night’s show at The Riviera was opened by Elephant Revival. I’d never heard their music, but I thought it was fun. Any time you get a performer who splits time between the washboard and the cello, you know you’re in for an interesting set. The crowd was super into it, so when they came to the end and said “We have time for one more,” only to add on another song after that one, the applause was uproarious. (scroll to bottom of page for photos.)
With a new album out last year, I wasn’t sure what kind of mix to expect from the night’s Josh Ritter set. The worst part about your favorite artist putting out new music is that the concert will feature less of your old favorites. On this night there would be no “Wolves,” no “Girl In The War,” no “Rattling Locks.” We didn’t even get “The Curse” (one of the finest songs written in the last 20 years in my opinion).
The good news for Ritter fans is none of that matters. Once he takes the stage and starts singing “Idaho,” you’re locked in ’til he decides he’s done playing. He’s got that infectious enthusiasm that radiates through the crowd, turning even the most casual of music listeners into super fans.
The setlist was a surprisingly balanced collection of songs, with Sermon On The Rocks material scattered throughout the show. With Springsteen out touring The River, that cover was replaced with Roger Miller’s “Engine #9,” with Frank Ocean’s hook from “No Church In The Wild” making an appearance during a rollicking version of “Birds Of The Meadow.”
As much as I missed some of the old songs, the new ones fit in great. Particularly the singles “Where The Night Goes” and “Homecoming.” The best moment of the night was probably the opening of “Bonfire” where Josh accidentally launched into the lyrics of “Cumberland” despite playing it a few songs previous. “Shit!” he exclaimed. “I have never done that before in my life. You guys don’t deserve that.”
Despite the screw up, the show was absolutely great. Ritter and his band are entertainers of the highest quality. This was the final show of their winter tour, but they’ll be back out on the road in a couple weeks. Check out Josh’s website for further details.
Birds Of The Meadow (No Church In The Wild)
A Certain Light
Seeing Me ‘Round
Where The Night Goes
Snow Is Gone-solo
Temptation Of Adam-solo
Engine #9 (Roger Miller)-solo
Getting Ready To Get Down
Change Of Time-solo
To The Dogs Or Whoever