“She’s up on the table when we hit Missouri” – Josh Ritter, from “Lilian, Egypt”
Happiness is a
warm very hot night at KC Crossroads with a cold Boulevard in hand. Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band rolled through Kansas City, a royal city itself, for the first time on Thursday night. Despite a history playing in and singing about Lawrence KS, Josh confessed to the crowd that this was his first time visiting KC. Before a small but appreciative crowd at the Crossroads, Ritter coasted through a laundry list of the most popular songs from his last four albums and a couple older tunes. In the set list were standards like “Harrisburg,” “Kathleen,” “Wolves,” “Girl in the War,” “Monster Ballads,” and newer tracks “Lantern,” “Change of Time,” “The Curse” and “Another New World” from his most recent album, 2010’s So Runs the World Away. Also included in the set were the playful Holy Grail tale “Galahad” from his 2011 Bringing in the Darlings EP, and some random but brief covers of the Beatles’ “Happiness is a Warm Gun” and Dire Straits’ “The Walk of Life.”
The 2+ hour setlist, including an encore, saw Josh in his usual bubbly and playful mood. Besides the wonderful melodies and astute wordplay, Josh’s demeanor is often the highlight of his shows. There’s something rewarding and yet somewhat surprising in witnessing an entertainer that is so appreciative of his audience and truly enjoys playing live on a daily basis. If you don’t catch Josh with a grin from ear to ear, then you must’ve seen the wrong guy.
Ritter is a good man for the chaotic and confusing postmodern era of popular culture. Conscious of both his influences both literary and in song, he’s a man whose writing is somehow simultaneously earnest and ornate. Perhaps that represents the contrast between his voice and his lyrics; the vox a smooth, calming and confident tenor while his words are all daringly self-aware poetic jaunts that represent a wise but weary journeyman.
At first I was a struck by the relatively small turn out for the show, but the diversity of the fan base was a confirmation of Josh’s ability to reach out across the age divide. Thursday nights at Crossroads in 100 degree weather may not be primetime for concerts, but Josh delivered as he always does. Originally from Moscow, Idaho, in person and on stage Ritter comes across as both worldly and down-to-earth. Although recognized as a veritable star in Ireland, Josh remains virtually unknown to all but a small and supportive fan base on his home turf.
His songs run the gamut from joyous and earnest to biting and melancholy, but the overwhelming message from his performances implicitly communicates that any experience worth living through is worth singing about. In the quieter moments, Ritter reaches audiences with his attention to detail and his literate folk-Americana take on everyday events: lovers leaving, new relationships, chance meetings and painful memories; all is material for a gifted wordsmith and vocalist with wide eyes. On any given night Ritter is both poet and performer with a dash of boyish charisma. During the quieter moments of his Crossroads show when Ritter and his band relied on hushed but spirited sing-alongs from the audience, he appeared to have the entire venue in his hand. By all outward appearances, Josh relishes what he does for a living and his fans love him for it.
NOTE: KC’s own She’s A Keeper opened up as a last second fill-in for Josh’s lost opening act.