Concert Review: Josh Ritter, Oct 26, Phoenix

TorontoJosh Ritter is a magical leprechaun that grew up tall and made good on his dreams of becoming a musician. That’s not what I would have said at the starting of last Tuesday’s show at the Phoenix, but it’s certainly what I was thinking by the end. For the record, I’m not saying that this thought entered my mind forcefully with my friend declaring “Josh Ritter is a magical leprechaun” at the end of the set. I’m just saying that it’s probably true, and you would agree with me if you had been there.

It’s not very often that a show starts kinda sorta OK and then ends really well. Typically if there are technical problems, they will plague the entire set.  Josh Ritter’s set started OK, with a nice quiet acoustic number, accompanied by some tasteful double-bass. It was a little sedate, but it was a reasonable start.

The second song featured the band jumping into the fray right proper. Being just next to the stage, it got a little missy very quickly. All I could hear was the boomy boom of the kick drum. It was shaking my camera and my chest. Before long, I moved to the very back of the venue, to the balcony. Still, the most prominent feature was the doof doof doof of the drums. After the 5th song, I was about ready to call it quits.

“I’d like to dedicate this next song to Zach’s moustache. It’s a murder ballad” – Josh Ritter

Then something amazing happened. The sound fixed itself! The sound guy turned down the drums. That, or the drummer’s foot got tired. Either way, I could hear the entire band come into mix, and things got really interesting. The lid was clearly off when bassist Vince Guaraldi (actually Zach Hickman, channelling Vince Guaraldi’s moustache) was hammering out the beat in front using two drum sticks.

Then came the real treat, Josh played some quieter numbers on his acoustic guitar sans band. This is where his skills as a musician, songwriter, and storyteller became clear. His stories about love and loss, angels and knights, and heaven and hell, drew us in. Before we knew it, we were caught up in Josh Ritter’s spinning web and impish grin. He’s got a magic about him that’s hard to describe; but it certainly justifies his devoted following.

Now, I know we sometimes cynically poke at the “I’m going to play a song now without amplification to force everyone to stop stalking” schtick, but I’ve never seen it done like this. Josh got the crew to turn off every light in the Phoenix. I’ve never heard the Phoenix so quiet. In silence and darkness, we listened to Josh play his guitar and sing. He urged us to hum along and we did; it was nice little slice of what live music is all about.

It’s a rare and pleasant surprise to start off a show thinking “meh”, and end thinking you just experienced something special.

Josh Ritter – Paths Will Cross by blaavinyl

Posted on by Mark in Concerts

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