Josh Ritter – Music Hall of Williamsburg – March 8, 2014
Do you like stories? Well, if so, you’re in for a treat any time you listen to any of Josh Ritter’s lyrically rich songs. The singer-songwriter has been weaving tales for more than a decade now, and his spring 2013 release, The Beasts in Its Tracks, only continues his great tradition. After an uproarious welcome to the stage of a sold-out Music Hall of Williamsburg on Saturday night, the crowd hushed as Ritter opened with “Wildfires,” from his fifth album, The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter, accompanied by two very accomplished musicians in Josh Kaufman and Zack Hickman. Kaufman’s prowess on the electric guitar shone early, on “Southern Pacifica,” while Hickman wowed with the lap steel on “Wings.” A pair of tunes from the last album, “A Certain Light” and “Bonfire,” had fans clapping and stomping their feet.
There was no questioning what spirit animal Ritter was when, as if an animal himself, he dropped to his knees and howled into the rafters during “Wolves.” The songwriter revealed that fan favorite “Joy to You Baby” was written just four blocks from the venue and that he was sincerely thankfully to be completing the tour in Brooklyn. Although Ritter touched upon gems from his catalog like “The Temptation of Adam” and “Change of Time,” he also treated fans to covers (Waylon Jennings’ “Abilene,” Ricky Nelson’s “I’m Not Afraid” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Save Me a Place”) and introduced new material, “Cry Softly” and “Strangers.” For the latter, Ritter requested “romantic lighting” and got darkness in return, which only provided a better first listen for the new song without visual distraction.
By the end of the show, the audience had happily joined in to sing sections of “Galahad” and “Kathleen.” The trio returned to the stage after a brief exit to encore with “Snow Is Gone” and “Lillian, Egypt.” Properly concluding the evening, Ritter called for opener Gregory Alan Isakov to sing on the final song, “Wait for Love,” with everyone singing along to the chorus, “We all got to wait for love/ Wait for love, wait for love,” which continued even after they exited Music Hall. The conversations I overheard as I left ranged from “He was great. He was just smiling the whole time” to “He sells out everywhere.” There’s no doubt why Ritter is so beloved: his masterful storytelling and his sincerity—but most of all, for his songs that speak to the chronicle of love. —Sharlene Chiu