In “Lights,” the concluding track of Josh Ritter’s new album The Beast In Its Tracks,” Ritter sings “Every heart on Earth is dark half the time,” an apt line that seems to sum up Ritter’s unique brand of potent folk/rock and poetic lyric. Ritter, a realistic romantic, paints extraordinary love songs with settings that range from an Egyptian tomb to a government controlled missile silo, but balances these resplendent short stories with tales of lost love and regret. The heart is dark half the time.
But…it’s ablaze the other half of the time, and this vivacious beating organ was on display at Terminal 5 this past weekend when Ritter and his dashing Royal City Band wholeheartedly rocked a packed crowd with a satiating 20-song set.
After The Felice Brothers, a local New York folk/rock band, set a passionate tone with a vivacious opening act fit with sultry Dylan-like folk pieces and perfervid blues-laden songs fit with white-hot accordion, fiddle, and even washboard, Ritter came out alone at around 9 p.m. and immediately sang the soft opening notes of “Idaho,” his tribute to his home state.
One of the most striking features of a Josh Ritter performance is how happy he is to be on stage performing to a crowd. As a listener, you get the sense that he would be beaming even if he was performing to a group of 20-or-so listeners. He has a clear love for music, poetry, stories, and performance. This warmth was echoed by the audience that sang along to most of the songs – even providing the much-needed background to the end of one of Ritter’s most serene and melodic songs, “Change of Time” (below).
Ritter displayed why he is a true troubadour in his between-song monologues where he talked about his life – including a candid expression of divorce and love.
Each song was tinged with a calm force that washed over the crowd like a breeze. But of all the songs I wanted to hear, I was most excited for “The Temptation of Adam,” which was the song (off of the 2007 album The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter) that first attracted me to Ritter’s music. This uber-creative love song that links the transition between attraction to deep (but somewhat apprehensive) love with a “top secret location 300-feet under the ground” (a missile silo) is as eccentric and zany as it is wondrous and impassioned. Ritter demonstrates his remarkable ability to write witty and brilliant lyrics that flow perfectly with the song. While I do not have a recording of his performance from this past Saturday, I do have one (Youtube) from 2011, also in Terminal 5.
Excellent concert! If Ritter and the Royal City Band is performing near your town, I seriously suggest you go to see them!