Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Josh Ritter - Live at Williamsburg Music Hall, NYC 4/28/08

Before I even get into Josh Ritter's performance, I have to say that I'm in love with Williamsburg Music Hall. The Bowery Ballroom attracts most of the best acts, but they would be much better served to play WMH on any given night. An intimate, yet sizable venue, WMH provides exactly the type of experience you would want from Josh Ritter.

It had taken me until April to see Ritter in person when he played a riveting solo acoustic performance at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with Hilary Hahn, a famous violinist. His absolutely stunning version of "Idaho" sold me for good on his work (check out "Girl in the War" from that night on his myspace page). Not that I needed any convincing - see here and scroll to the bottom.

At WMH, Ritter played a great set list with a full band that truly seemed to enjoy playing with him. Unfortunately, Jack the Rabbit met Ritter a few days prior and officially dubbed him as arrogant and aloof (sounds like the perfect JTR artist if you ask me...), but I respect JTR's assessment. However, it was hard to not be moved by Ritter's on-stage presence.

His night managed to capture most of my favorite songs while keeping everything fresh. He didn't just run through The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter absentmindedly as so many artists do nowadays. Instead, he played quite a bit from his entire catalog, including songs like "Come and Find Me" from the Golden Age of Radio and a slew of songs from The Animal Years, including a fantastic "Lillian, Egypt" to close out the show.

One thing I found interesting was Ritter's decision to swap his opening songs from their order on THCOJR. On the album, "To the Dogs..." leads into "Mind's Eye," while in concert, he flipped the two to open the show. Was this a post-release realization of Ritter's or was he just trying something new? Anyone who's ever made a mix knows that the order of songs means just as much as the songs played so it's interesting to see Ritter switch it up so soon after an album's release.

You should probably own The Animal Years and THCOJR at least by now so I won't get into how great his performance was on those songs (and it was amazing...), but I will suggest you go see him live at some point. It's rare to see an artist seemingly enjoy their work so much that they can't help but smile throughout their show. At one point, Ritter asked the crowd to turn around and sing an a capella version of "Empty Hearts" to the sound man on tour. It was fun and definitely a highlight of the night.

Check out the set list below, but I highly recommend buying a few of his albums to get into his body of work if you haven't yet.

Set List:
  1. Mind's Eye
  2. To the Dogs or Whoever
  3. Wolves
  4. Open Doors
  5. Good Man
  6. Come and Find Me
  7. Snow Is Gone
  8. Here at the Right Time
  9. Wings
  10. Rumors
  11. Right Moves
  12. Real Long Distance
  13. Thin Blue Flame
  14. California
  15. Empty Hearts
  16. Kathleen
  1. Temptation of Adam
  2. Lilian, Egypt

*Side Note*
Check out Langhorne Slim. They opened and were so good I bought their self titled album on the spot. Cool sound, great stage presence, and a lot of fun.

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