I expected Josh Ritter to be one of those cigarette-smoking, whiskey-drinking troubadour types who is too “real” for this world. His songs channel just about every great American singer/songwriter before him and have that back-roads twang of authenticity.
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But Ritter has the persona of a guy who showed up to play an open mic on a Tuesday, but found himself in front of a packed, adoring audience. With a bucktooth grin and an “aw shucks, I’m so lucky” attitude carried throughout the set, he won the audience over. When he sang the line “I’m a good man,” it came off as honest and sincere. It’s nice to have good guys like him making a buck off the music industry to combat the megalomaniac douche-buckets (see Anton Newcombe) that make it big by “being rock stars.”
Another plus was that he was actually funny. Nine times out of ten, people on stage aren’t nearly as clever as they think. It’s my belief that musicians’ egos make them think that people are there to worship every word and witty aside they make, not just because they like the melody of one of their choruses. Ritter was an exception, pointing out during a song that noodled off that it actually sounds pretty good if you’re stoned.
The audience was mainly nondescript, middle-aged white people who stood stiff except to clap after songs. I’ve never seen such a respectful, middle-of-the-road group at a club concert before. There was the requisite annoying guy who went crazy after Ritter mentioned his home town, like he was also from there. This is a pet peeve for me; it’s always like the guy expects the singer to stop the show, invite him backstage and chug a beer with him because they grew up in the same place. Nobody gives a fuck, so stop shouting out throughout the rest of the set.
Ritter and his band mates played it right the entire way through. The highlights were “Thin Blue Flame” and “Kathleen.” He mixed up the sounds from his limited palate well enough to keep it fresh throughout the entire evening. If Ritter ever releases a CD via Radiohead pay-what-you-want style, I’m giving the man a good amount of money -- he’s one of the good guys. -- Gene Davis