1) No one has ever been happier about playing in his own band. From the moment he literally bounces onstage, Josh Ritter is positively ebullient, grinning ear to ear like he can’t believe he stumbled into this group of musicians. He prances around the stage, his odd brown ’fro and unbuttoned collared shirt looking slightly familiar, though you can’t quite place why or where.
2) Sure, he digs into his catalog, but it’s mostly a night for new songs. Ritter just finished recording his latest album, due sometime around April, so he presents them mostly in their young form. “These are the awkward teenagers of what I hope will grow up to be Brett Favre,” he says.
3) The highlight comes near the end of the set with a new song, “Another New World,” about an explorer charting the northern waters in a ship named Annabel Lee. It’s a gorgeous, haunting dirge, played so quietly that you start to feel a cold ocean chill come over the TLA. The song is sad and dark, of a piece with the Edgar Allan Poe poem from which Ritter’s ship clearly takes her name. Look for this one to become a crowd favorite.
4) After a rollicking “Lillian, Egypt,” Ritter shares what he and his bass player were just talking about: “Zack just told me I look like Bob Roth, which I’m really proud of.” That’s what was so familiar about his look. Happy little trees.
5) You could speculate that Ritter looks so excited even when playing songs he’s played hundreds of times before because he’s so in love with his band, but there’s more than that: Virtually every older tune is reimagined in some way, whether turned from an acoustic ballad to an electric rocker (“Bright Smile”), vice versa (“Kathleen”), taken new melodic turns and twists (“Come and Find Me”), or given renewed cultural poignancy (Obama’s Afghanistan announcement made “Girl in the War” more discomforting than ever, as Ritter mused aloud how, a year ago, we thought everything would be better by now, and now we’re not sure what to think). It’s a down note, but easy to look past when you have a set filled with this much joy.– JEFF BARG
(Setlist after the jump)
Girl in the War
The Temptation of Adam
Crystal Chandeliers and Burgundy (by Johnny Cash)
Another New World
To the Dogs or Whoever
Snow Is Gone
Moon River (by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini)
Come and Find Me