Josh Ritter / Villagers – Motel Mozaïque, Rotterdam – 09.04.2011

Motel Mozaïque is a multi-venue festival that brings a reasonably impressive line-up of bands to Rotterdam each year. We didn’t catch Lykke Li, Belle and Sebastian, The Coral, The Bees, or any of the various up-and-coming acts that played across the two days. We did, however, see Josh Ritter (with his Royal City Band) and Villagers, two favourite acts of mine.

This was my fourth time seeing Josh Ritter. The band sounded better than ever before, helped by the nice-sized room (De Gouvernestraat) and good acoustics. On previous occasions the shows have been sold out, with a crowd that was more familiar with the songs and therefore expecting to hear more of the “hits”. In Rotterdam last night the room was at about two thirds capacity, probably mostly made up of curious festival-goers rather than Ritter fans. The setlist didn’t include Kathleen, Snow is Gone, Man Burning, etc…, and leaned heavily on the most recent album.  There were lovely versions of The Curse, Another New World and Southern Pacifica. One or two songs fell a bit flat, in particular Long Shadows (I’m not afraid of the dark…).

But Josh was his usual good-humoured, fully committed self, and the songs that were good were very, very good. It’s always a pleasure to hear him sing and I was pleased to see a lot of CD-buying at the merchandise table afterwards.

Villagers, who I saw last year in the small room at the Paradiso, were playing at Off Corso, a much bigger venue. A typically nosiy Dutch crowd filled the main part of the room, although Conor O’Brien did half-jokingly ask how many people were there only because they’d failed to get into Belle and Sebastian.

They played most of the Becoming a Jackal album, along with three (presumably newer) songs I hadn’t heard before. The new songs were pretty good, which bodes well for the future. Their sound has grown since I first heard them. I remember being impressed by the musicianship before, and I was even more impressed last night. The drummer in particular really pulls the whole thing together. O’Brien was in good form, although I think the chattering Dutchies annoyed him a bit at times. (They certainly annoyed me!) It was a really good show overall and I think the crowd was disappointed that they didn’t come back out for an encore.