I told myself I'd hold off to post about Josh Ritter until after I saw him live. And believe me, I'm glad I did. Because now I can say that not only is his music amazing (did I mention his music's amazing?), he is genuinely one of the happiest and nicest people I have ever met.
I discovered Josh Ritter last December. Right around the time I decided to start Moxie, I was browsing around the Internet at some other music blogs and I downloaded a few songs from them, trying to feed the music slump I was in at the moment. I came across the song "Rumors" from The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter
, and found myself loving it. The day after Christmas, I decided I was going to buy a CD, and somewhat randomly decided to get Conquests
off iTunes. I remember listening to it in the car on my shopping excursion that day, and being really surprised at how good it was. It just felt so listenable
compared to a lot of indie/folk music. I'm actually fairly certain that most of the songs on that album could have great success as radio singles, were they given the chance. One thing that amazes me about this man is his range. Conquests
opens with "To the Dogs or Whoever," a crazy, nonsensical tale taking place in a whale's belly that's full of great one-liners; just a few songs later is the captivating acoustic "The Temptation of Adam," a heart-wrenching love story about an underground bomb shelter during WWIII. Not to mention the brilliant "Rumors." If that song doesn't have you at least tapping your foot, you probably don't have a foot. Even then, I'd be surprised if you weren't tapping something.
Josh has some great free downloads up on his website, which I promptly secured. Even so, I was itching for more. I bought The Animal Years a couple months later, and was blown away. The imagery in this album is phenomenal, and every single song is absolutely beautiful. I recently reviewed it for another music blog called A Fresh Cup of Awesome; you can read my review here
. It's definitely mellower than Conquests, but it only proves to showcase even more the incredible musical range this guy has, from the haunting a capella notes of "Idaho" to the fantastical story-painting of "Lillian, Egypt."
Bottletree is a tiny bar/vegetarian restaurant/concert venue hidden away in some random part of downtown Birmingham that has a crazy cult following. I'd never been there before Sunday night, but I'm kind of in love with it now. It's really small but has all these awesome decorations. The walls are covered with random record albums and cases among all the other random decorations. (One of my favorite moments of the show might have been when Josh instructed the crowd to turn around and sing, very softly, to the sequin-studded silver "disco deer head" on the wall. I will never think of the song "Empty Hearts" in the same way again.) Anyways, the four of us (Kara, Allyn, Britt, and I) arrived pretty early so we sat down at a picnic table to wait and admire our surroundings. We ordered some sweet potato fries, which were amazing. People were starting to filter into the concert room, so we secured some great second-row spots. There was a huge screen playing very strange cartoons blocking the stage, and when it was time for the concert to start, it opened up and revealed the TINY stage. Ingrid Michaelson opened, and she was phenomenal. Her voice sounds SO much better live than it does recorded. I love the barebones style of her music too... her band consisted of her on the keyboard and another girl named Allie who sang background vocals and occasionally guitar. She was absolutely hilarious, too. Hands down wins the award for best between-songs banter I've ever heard at a concert. Some of the highlights:
> Ingrid Michaelson - Die Alone
> Ingrid Michaelson - Breakable
After she finished up her relatively short set, the screen got pulled back down, allowing us to shift slightly so I wasn't behind the same seven-foot tall guy I'd been behind for Ingrid. After Josh's band got set up and the screen opened again, I realized just how good my new spot was. Second row, dead center, behind two really short (and, unfortunately, really drunk) girls. I was probably... mm, five feet from the stage. It was pretty fantastic. Josh started the set with "Open Doors" and, to my delight, the girls in front of me pointed out the set list taped to the floor that we could see. Never having been faced with this dilemma before, I was torn. Should I look so I'll know what he's playing? Or should I let it be a surprise? I looked at the first three songs and then stopped. It turned out not to matter, though, because he didn't follow it at all after those three. I counted later, and I'm pretty sure he played at least eighteen songs. Maybe more. At one point he played an acoustic song that I didn't know, in complete darkness, just him and his guitar, and then moments after he finished his entire band came out and brought the house down with the orchestral craziness that is "Rumors." After the regular set, he came out and did an encore of "The Temptation of Adam," followed by "Lillian, Egypt," complete with a disco dance interlude. It was spectacular.
After the show, I bought a vinyl record (!) of one of his older albums, The Golden Age of Radio. I can't listen to it until next week when I go home (no record player here with me) but I'm pretty pumped about it. We waited around to see if he would come out, and sure enough, he did. When he spent about fifteen minutes talking to the couple in front of us in line, I was beginning to think that he must already know them or something. But no, it turns out he spends that much time talking to all of his fans. He was incredibly nice to the four of us, thanking us for coming and standing at the front, and he wrote something really sweet on my record when he signed it. He asked us all about school, and seemed genuinely interested. (When I remarked that I had class in 7 hours, he laughed and said that his parents taught in a veterinary school and they always purposely scheduled their hardest classes for early in the morning for the purpose of "weeding out" students.) We also talked about trains, and some other random things that I don't even remember. Kara and I got pictures taken with him, and then we let him move on to the people behind us.
It was a great night, and I'm sad that he won't be returning to the South any more on his current tour, or at least there aren't any scheduled dates up yet. If you get the chance, however, go see this guy. It's definitely worth it.
> Josh Ritter - Rumors
> Josh Ritter - Good Man
(from Animal Years
All of the following downloads are courtesy his website:
> Josh Ritter - Girl In The War
> Josh Ritter - Kathleen
> Josh Ritter - Harrisburg
[ if you like them, you can find more free downloads here