Josh Ritter is such a generous and warm performer. This was my third time seeing him live and, yet again, it was an uplifting experience. It’s rare to see a musician that so clearly loves doing what he does and lets it show unashamedly. What’s more, he’s a brilliant lyricist who has crafted some really beautiful songs. My favourite, The Temptation of Adam, was missing from last night’s performance, but he played The Curse, a lovely song on his latest album, and a new one – Sir Galahad – that, along with the usual tenderness, demonstrated a sense of humour that I haven’t heard much in his songs before. I hope he gets around to recording it.
The one small thing that bothered me a bit – and it was the same when I saw him in 2007 in the Melkweg – was a certain looseness in his band’s performance. Maybe I’m being over-critical (never!) but I have the feeling that some of the performances weren’t as polished or as tight as they could be, particularly when some of the mid-tempo songs seemed to drag a bit. It’s not a big issue and I definitely prefer live music to sound live, but I wonder whether a better rhythm section would take his shows to a whole new level. Having said that, they seem like nice guys, and they’re all far better musicians than I will ever be.
What is certain is that the Josh Ritter highlights are always when the band leaves him to play alone. He commands the attention of the (notoriously noisy Dutch) audience, sometimes stepping off-mic, or having the stage lights turned off so that we focus on the music alone. His wife, Dawn Landes (who, with her band The Hounds, was also the support act) joined him on stage for Don’t You Leave Us In the Dark, and again later for an American folk song and, with the whole band, an almost a capella singalong finale of Wait For Love. It was a nice touch that fitted in well with the gezellig atmosphere in the room – it’s a pity it was only two-thirds full…Josh Ritter deserves more. He’s back in town in April: see you there!
Here’s my favourite JR song, and also one of my favourite songs of all time. I believe it’s a modern classic.