If you have yet to see Josh Ritter perform live, I pity you. You are depriving yourself one of the great joys available on this earth. His shows are always great fun, and generally they reaffirm my belief that he is not only the best songwriter working today, but also one of the best live performers.
On this particular night Josh and The Royal City Band invaded The Majestic in Madison, Wisconsin. The Majestic is a beautiful old theatre that holds about 700 people. I look at it as Metro’s little brother. It has a small main floor area and two levels above. The Majestic is a very intimate venue, and perfect for a show like Josh Ritter.
The opening act, Thieving Irons, hails from Brooklyn (same place Mr. Ritter now resides). They played a slow, folky set that reminded me of a coffee shop Simon & Garfunkel. They weren’t bad, but they weren’t good, either. More like something to do for 45 minutes while we waited for the main attraction.
I’ve seen Josh Ritter four times now, and I’m always surprised by his opening number. Not because I think they’re bad choices, but that they are always very slow songs. Twice I’ve seen him open with “Monster Ballads,” which is a perfectly great song, and in Madison he opened with “Idaho.” Not exactly the barnstormers you’d expect from a live show, but the audience is completely captivated by Josh’s voice and words. It sets a great tone for the evening, and reminds us that above all else, he’s a writer.
Some highlights from the show for me were “Right Moves,” which has been one of the many tunes that always sounds great live, a new song about the search for the Holy Grail which was darkly humorous and the always fun “Harrisburg.”
Every show is something different, and it usually revolves around the song “Harrisburg.” The three previous times I’ve seen the show, they mixed in some pretty different stuff. The first time, they broke into a cover of Modest Mouse‘s “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes,” the second time it was The Beatles‘ “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” and in Chicago at the Vic it was “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak. When we first arrived at the venue we ran into the bass player outside and I asked him what they were gonna do. He said they had “some new tricks” for the evening. That new trick ended up being a very long, very funny build up to the song “Once in a Lifetime” by The Talking Heads.
It was a blast to hear the lead up to that song, but they didn’t actually get to the meat of it. They only did the beginning, the “And you may ask yourself…” part. Which was both satisfying and hilarious.
There was also a long period with Josh by himself playing acoustic, often without the microphone. This is something he always does, though the songs are sometimes different. For this show, he played “The Temptation of Adam” and “Girl in the War” with passion and he once again blew me away.
This tour is just about over for Josh Ritter and The Royal City Band. If you are in a city he’s coming to soon, grab tickets now before they sell out! His shows are some of the best live experiences you can hope for. And, unlike a U2 show, the tickets are ridiculously reasonable. So go, have fun and thank me later.
- Josh Ritter originally hails from Moscow, Idaho and currently resides in Brooklyn. His group, The Royal City Band, is: Zack Hickman (bass, guitar, tuba, strings), Sam Kissirer (piano, keyboard, organ, accordion), Austin Nevins (guitar, lap steel, baritone) and Liam Hurley (drums, percussion).
- Lots of Josh Ritter music is available on his website.
- For more on Josh Ritter, check out my review of his 2010 album, So Runs the World Away.