Josh Ritter Takes Union Transfer to Church on Sunday Night

February 22nd, 2016

Josh Ritter & the Royal City Band – Union Transfer – February 21, 2016

(Photo: Jared Levy)

(Photo: Jared Levy)

Faith was in the air last night at Union Transfer in Philadelphia. Josh Ritter came to town touring behind his most recent release, Sermon on the Rocks. And for this album, he explores relationships, love and religion through a mix of honest lyricism and rollicking folk rock. The album art features Ritter in a paint-smeared jumpsuit, and in concert, he wore the same outfit. It looked like he painted the backdrop, two exploding pastel mountains, and with lights flashing on the backdrop as well as on Ritter and the Royal City Band, he and his band traded solos and smiles, comfortably and confidently.

Ritter, for his part, was disarmingly sincere. While he performed, his expressions oscillated between full-faced grins and looks of deep emotional searching. And these expressions were reflected back from those in the crowd who delighted in every song. But it was mutual faith because Ritter sang like these tunes mattered to his very core, and the audience, in turn, looked back in hypnotized delight.

All material was welcomed, whether it was from Sermon on the Rocks or past albums. And “Snow Is Gone,” played on acoustic guitar, was especially well received. For sing-alongs like those, the sound in Union Transfer was that of a rich unison. For the most part, those in attendance seemed to be in their late 30s or older, a veritable army of local radio station WXPN devotees. And when Ritter repeated “homecoming,” during the last song, “Homecoming,” he pointed the microphone toward the audience, beckoning them to sing along, which they did, devoutly and passionately. Ritter inspired this kind of faith and it was a pleasure to witness. —Jared Levy | @Playtonic