Josh Ritter – The Wellmont Theatre – April 4, 2009

April 6th, 2009
(Photo: John Strymish)

(Photo: John Strymish)

Maybe all it takes is a smile—a big fat “I love my life!” kinda smile that permeates everyone around you and everything you do. That’s the kind that spread across Josh Ritter’s face on Saturday night at The Wellmont Theatre in Montclair, N.J. From the moment he hopped onstage, through the over-the-top platitudes to the audience, to the last notes of the show, Ritter did his best Cheshire Cat impression. And it did permeate all: His band smiled with him, the music had a big fat grin on it—every song—and the crowd just beamed.

Ritter’s band is the basic two guitars, bass, keys and drums, with the addition of something groovy called the Omnichord that the bass player strummed once or twice (to wonderful effect). Everything relied on the songs and Ritter’s charisma. For the most part that was just fine. Working out of the back catalog and sprinkling in a “new one,” the band swung the crowd with ease. I was shocked when Ritter would drop his vocals and the whole crowd picked up singing in perfect time.

It’s always a good sign when you can announce a new song and it’s the best of the night, which was the case with “Annabel Lee,” a tragic love ballad sung by a sailor to his doomed boat. This was slow and beautiful. It was so quiet, you could hear the guy three rows in front of you breathing. For the most part, though, it was upbeat, clap-your-hands rock, decorated with some goofy choreographed stage antics. It worked because that grin on Ritter’s face spoke to the fact that this was honest fun. Josh Ritter really does love his life and has the smile to prove it. —A. Stein