I went to see Josh Ritter on Wednesday night at the Mandela Hall in my Students Union. I have a feeling that this will be a long one.
I asked The Gown, Queens’ Student Newspaper if I could do the review, away back at the beginning of the year so if nobody minds here is what I submitted for that review.
“Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band – Mandela Hall, Wednesday 13 April 2011
There was an excited cheer as Josh Ritter bounded on to the stage in the Mandela Hall – his signature smile immediately affecting the audience as he began with ‘Come and Find Me’, just his guitar and a single light mesmerizing the packed hall before the Royal City Band joined him to more cheers and the music picked up pace in a blaze of impressive lights with a rousing and energetic performance of ‘Good Man.’
Josh and the band moved easily from beautifully intense narrative songs like ‘Another New World’ to loud rock such as the noisy ‘Rattling Locks’ in which every band member grabbed a pair of drumsticks and hit the nearest surface as well as playing their own instruments, and the delighted audience joined in with the eerie chorus of ‘Black hole, black hole, black hole…’ while Josh’s voice echoed as if into the void he addressed.
Josh is genuinely happy to be where he is, doing what he is doing and his failure to fight back his grin gives him away and a glance around will show that everyone who watched him couldn’t stop smiling back. Between songs he told the story of their crossing from Scotland at 5am that morning, embellishing a little as he recounted passing the Statue of Liberty and seeing the palm trees as they neared Belfast. He also attempted to banish ‘romantic awkwardness’ from the human race and proceeded to engage us in the ‘largest slow dance in Belfast’ during favourite ‘Kathleen’.
He invited the wonderful support Tift Merritt back on stage and he and the band sang and accompanied her new song while she in return stayed to join in the last few songs with “Josh and his musical family.”
His lyrics are genius, a talented writer; his first book – “Bright’s Passage” is coming out in July. He is gracious and humble, an American from Idaho he has been welcomed here for a decade, “we don’t take this for granted” he thanks us, looking genuinely touched by the clapping and cheering crowd, who are just as genuine in their appreciation . Both Josh and his Royal City Band have a strong and loyal following in Ireland. To see and hear him is to know you are part of something good, and although it was his first time in the Mandela Hall, I have afeeling it won’t be the last.”
However, there is so much more that I could say! My friend and housemate Ruth came with me – and she curled my hair for me and laughed at my excitement as we walked to the show. Going to Josh Ritter is possibly my favourite thing in the world. We had to hang our coats over our handbags and when we tried to get a photo of our gorgeousness we looked like Avatars but we had a great time!
This time it was a little different, and my heart wasn’t fully in it for a variety of reasons, but I still managed to catch Josh’s contagious smiling and loved the familiar feeling of standing in the dark among many more smiling people (it’s lovely to look around!) listening with upturned faces.
I was a little concerned that Josh wouldn’t be his usual happy self because of news of the separation of his recent marriage… I thought I maybe caught a hint of something but he didn’t let it ruin the show for himself or us. He began with ‘Come and Find Me’ – a beautiful song from 2002 that I had almost forgotten about. I listened to it again on Thursday morning and it made me cry: these lyrics seemed appropriate, perhaps:
“You don’t know it’s right until it’s wrong/ You don’t know it’s yours until it’s gone/ I didn’t know that this was home til you up and left/ (You just up and left me) Come and find me now…”
Spur of the moment the night before the concert, I wrote Josh a little card with the thought of sliding it onto the stage as everyone was leaving. However I did not account for all the technicians who were also handing out set lists and were at risk of handing the little white envelope to someone in the crowd. So after much cajoling by Ruth I red facedly gave it to @brianstowell Josh’s photographer/merch man who I had earlier bought a t-shirt from and asked him to give it to Josh, as well as awkwardly telling him I had replied to him on Twitter that morning or something. He just stared at me. (EDIT: Ok he didn’t. But I felt like he was scared by the crazy girl. He was actually quite lovely. )Haha *hides face* Brian, if you are reading this, I am not actually that weird.
I was glad that he played ‘The Bad Actress’ and ‘Lantern’ and ‘Good Man’ – it was all amazing, as per usual. They played songs from the newest album ‘So Runs the World Away’ mainly, but backed through the other wonderful albums and I even detected one or two new songs. He mixed Harriburg up with ‘Letting the Days Go By’ which was so fun and he covered a Velvet Underground song, Pale Blue Eyes – the other band members grouped around one mic leading the audience in the chorus. The lighting was particularly impressive, too, I know I keep mentioning it. Different sweeping colours, and strobe for fast guitar playing and drumming. I really did feel part of something, and it felt good.
I have the feeling that I would love to write meaningful, beautiful songs and music too, and have so much fun playing them… but at best I was able to play a few Josh songs on my lovely blue guitar, but even that has been abandoned for about a year. Maybe it’s best left to Josh and his talented charismatic band Zack, Sam, Liam and Austin.
Thank you, Josh Ritter. Please hurry back in my direction, and keep writing those heart-breakingly wonderful songs. I will keep listening, and I will constantly be inspired.