Josh Ritter kicked some big old butt the other night at his show in Charlottesville VA. I won’t describe things in great detail, because I don’t think I can put it down here in a way to get you all excited enough. I’ll just hit the highlights.
Ritter’s lyrics are excellent. He raises the bar well above whatever most of us have been doing. He’s right there with Warren Zevon, Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, all those crazy writers writing lots of really good lyrics.
Ritter’s music and band are great. Not a lot of slick jazzy whatnot like Steely Dan. Not a lot of long jams like Phish. But tight, to the point, get in and get out. The punchy piano reminds me a bit of Bad Plus. And the arrangements are all unique. Each song sounds very different, very imaginative, distinct. All this from a drummer, bassist, keyboardist, lead guitarist, and Ritter on rhythm guitar.
Ritter also worked the crowd real good. Lots of stories, jokes, a couple quiet intense spots. He busted into “Once In A Lifetime” and “Pale Blue Eyes,” both seemingly unrehearsed covers, almost as a joke on the audience and maybe even on the band.
Here’s a cool video of Ritter live on Letterman: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rcUsFatXw4
What else? The show was opened by a guy named Joe Pug who would have blown us all away with his acoustic guitar, harmonica, and dense lyrics hitting the old American scenery pretty hard. Pug was real good, but the poor guy had to open for Ritter.
Ritter is folky, classic rock, hardly a synthesizer or bloopy sound. It’s like new wave never happened and all the stuff since. I’ve complained on this blog a few times about the sleepy, easy-listening side of folk music, especially since the 80s according to my ears. I’m so glad there are people out there who can write ridiculously good and vast lyrics, play good simple acoustic guitar, and still put on a great rock and roll circus show for a small theater full of grooving people in Virginia.