Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band
With his massive, childlike smile in tow, Josh Ritter took the stage at the Music Farm on Tuesday night (July 26) and played his ode to home, "Idaho." With his voice in a whisper and his guitar-picking almost silent, his nostalgic lullaby pulled the crowd right in.
Several times during the show, after raucous bouts with his semi-symphonic backers, the Royal City Band, he returned to this mode of total immersion in his storytelling, silencing the audience with his soft words and overwhelming presence.
On stage, Ritter was the Energizer bunny, laughing and jumping around like a little kid showing off card tricks to his grandparents. He was a ham. And his beaming personality dovetailed beautifully with the sincerity of his songs. It was too over-the-top to be an act.
Ritter just published an exceedingly well-reviewed novel titled Bright's Passage. After watching him for two hours on stage, it made complete sense: his songs are mini-novels, short stories that happen to have (perfectly delivered) musical accompaniment. After singing his beautiful "Girl in the War," Ritter switched to a red Gretsch electric guitar, crouched down on his knees, cupped his hands and howled at the moon during "Wolves," pulling the audience even closer to his level.
He then played several songs from his latest, 2010's So Runs the World Away, confusing genres wonderfully. Sam Kassirer provided the haunting piano backdrop for "The Curse" before breaking into a brilliant ragtime solo. And Ritter did his best Tom Waits impression on "Rattling Locks," growling into a distorted microphone while the band all took up forms of percussion and upped the electricity.
Naturally, Ritter wanted to tell a story. "12 years ago on my birthday, I played here in town," he said. "It was a wonderful show, and I left the club, and wasn't paying attention, and stepped right onto the tracks and a fast-moving train swept me away to Tulsa. To Winnipeg. Decatur." He chuckled, "Been trying to get back here ever since."
The crowd erupted as he started his new train song "Southern Pacifica," another lullaby. Kassirer's masterful organ, replicating perfectly the sound of someone whistling, built up into a scream. It was the only sound in the room besides Ritter.
On "Snow is Gone," Ritter sang, "I'm singing for the love of it/Have mercy on the man who sings to be adored." This is precisely why he is so adored. In a live setting, his "love of it" is so transparent and so palpable, you can't help but fall into a beaming smile and let yourself be awed.