josh ritter @ cat’s cradle, may 2013

josh ritter & the royal city band @ cat's cradle

josh ritter & the royal city band @ cat's cradle

josh ritter & the royal city band @ cat's cradle

(People searching for the setlist, I hope you come here and find it!)

I am not exactly shy about my feeling regarding Josh Ritter; it is one of my least complicated listener-artist relationships, in that flat out I love his weird ass unconditionally. I believe that rock and roll is a religion, and I believe that you should worship at the feet of Josh Ritter, who brought utter unconditional joy to stage of the Cradle last night, like he has every time I have seen him at the Cradle. It was a deeply melancholy set last night, because the new record of course is about heartbreak, but it was a joyously melancholy one. Josh talked about how his beliefs regarding marriage have changed — there was a comparison to riding a bicycle, which Josh is apparently unable to do, and that he now thinks that marriage is the greatest optimist step that “two mammals” can take — and he went on a long, bizarre, hilarious tirade about Lewis & Clark in the break during “Kathleen”. He alleged that the Cradle was built a thousand years ago. He told us that “Folk Bloodbath” was “a comedy”. He was funny, and happy, and he smiled the whole time, and the crowd loved him and he loved us back. It’s what I always want Josh Ritter shows to be: glorious.

The set feels a little stilted right now, as they try to find the places for the new songs, but the shivering opening of “Idaho” and the odd, lovely placement of “Wings” in Josh’s solo turn were both delightful surprises.

Setlist: Idado / Southern Pacifica / Rumours / Evil Eye / Hopeful / Lillian, Egypt / The Curse / Joy To You Baby / New Lover / Folk Bloodbath / The Temptation Of Adam / Change of Time / Wings / A Certain Light / Rattling Locks / Wolves / Right Moves / Kathleen // Lights / To The Dogs Or Whoever

the felice brothers @ cat's cradle

the felice brothers @ cat's cradle

The Felice Brothers opened, and while the siblings shoot beforehand fell through, they turned out to be the perfect weirdos to open for perfect weirdo Josh Ritter last night. I’ve only seen the Felices twice, both in the fall of 2010, once at Bristol on a huge stage and once at Kings a few weeks after that, and never since the latest record. Ian is such a creepy trainwreck genius, and James is the sexiest accordian player in the world, and Farley is the best thing to ever happen anywhere. They are so much fun to shoot, and such wonderful songwriters, and I need to never forget that.

Full set from last night here.

I feel a little guilty about these shots, because it was apparently a no cameras / credentials only show. Nobody told me not to shoot, though, and I didn’t see it posted anywhere, so I’m really sorry, Josh. I tried to be unobtrusive.

favorites: boys with guitars

the gaslight anthem @ lincoln theatre

There are things that always make me happy, and I have three things to share from three people who bring me great joy today.

One: Josh Ritter’s genius double record Live At Iveaugh Gardens is free on NoiseTrade today. If this album fails to make you happy, please check your pulse.

Two: Brian Fallon says the next Gaslight record is going to be “the weird one”. Because he, himself, is a sincere weirdo, and I love him. Please bring unto me a “weird” Gaslight Anthem record, Brian Fallon. Please.

Three: Frank Turner has a new record coming out in April, and he released this brilliant fascinating hypnotizing might-cause-a-seizure-so-be-careful video for the next single, “Recovery”, behind “Four Simple Words”. Watch it. Love Frank. Be happy.

album review: josh ritter – the beast in its tracks

josh ritter @ cat's cradle

Josh Ritter — The Beast In Its Tracks. Out tomorrow, but streaming on NPR today.

I am in awe of Josh Ritter; I have been for many years, because he’s the most literate songwriter working today, and he’s funny and awkward and genius, and he’s probably sincerely a complete charming weirdo, and he smiles on stage like he loves his job better than anybody else in the world. His albums are beautiful and stark and warm and clever and catchy; every release has ten or twenty or fifty lines that are quotable beyond belief. Every record he releases surprises me more than the one before it.

The Beast In Its Tracks is no exception to that rule, except for how it is even more spectacular than the others, as it was written and recorded in the fierce grief of the breakup of Ritter’s marriage. Not only that, but that he has been so honest about the fact that yes, this is the subject of this record: my marriage, and how it fell apart, and how I fell apart, and how I moved on, and how I hope you’ve moved on, too. It is, quite frankly, maybe the most beautiful and raw breakup record I have ever heard. I have listened to it endlessly in the last month — yes, I have been lucky enough to have it that long, and I know that I am spoiled, yes, yes, yes, spoiled and lucky beyond belief — and every time a different line has punched me in the chest with its power and truth.

josh ritter @ cat's cradle

I cried the first time I listened to “Joy To You Baby”, the day that Josh announced the new record; I cried the first time I heard “New Lover” on All Songs Considered (and, in fact, I think the first time I heard it in November 2011, when Josh was doing the solo tour with Zach and playing it). And the first time I listened to the whole record, during “Hopeful”, I made one of my trademark hugely embarrassing sobbing honks and burst into tears at my desk, over a single line: and the whole world stopped spinning and just went up in flames. It’s not just the line, in that song, it’s the pattered staccato delivery of the lyrics, the contradiction of grief and darkness with hope, the verses that are the story of loss, the choruses the story of how we stand up and stand taller from loss. The way he half stutters, half speaks, half sings the words, it’s the vocal representation of that staggering around that we do after loss. That Josh Ritter could convey that not just in words, but in the way he says those words, that idea and execution blinds me with love for him.

(And honestly, could anyone in the world get away with the line still it beggars the belief sometimes what thieves we lovers be but Josh Ritter? I can’t even get away with saying “it beggars the belief” in real life.)

I think that one of the things that fascinates me most about this album is the way that Ritter uses “she” and “you”; she is the new lover, and you is the lover he has left, or been left by. but she didn’t have your arms, he sings in opener “Third Arm”; she only looks like you in a certain kind of light, from “A Certain Light”. These are the things we say to ourselves when we’re brokenhearted, even as we say something else out loud. It distances him from the new person, it makes the old lover closer, 2nd person instead of 3rd person. “You” will always be closer than “she” or “he”. These are the secret things we keep from new lovers. These are the cruel and sad and sometimes shameful and always truthful things everyone thinks after a break up. The kind of thing that we pretend we don’t think, the kind of lyrics that you hear in a song and say, that’s how I feel, even if you only say it to yourself; even if the cruelty and ragged unhappiness and missing is only in your own heart and head. Even “New Lover”, a paean to finding someone else and moving on, is the sort of dig anyone, not just a genius poet, might make at an old lover:

i got a new lover now, she knows just what i need
when i wake up in the night, she can read me back my dreams,
and she loves them, though she never needs to tell me what they mean

i hope you’ve got a lover now, hope you’ve got somebody who
can give you what you need like i couldn’t seem to do
but if you’re sad and you are lonesome and you’ve got nobody true,
i’d be lying if i said that didn’t make me happy too

That’s exactly how I feel after I leave someone, or I am left — eventually I am happy, and I hope you are happy too, and well, if you’re not, you were an asshole and I’m glad you’re miserable.

josh ritter @ cat's cradle

And of course, The Beast In Its Tracks has the penultimate benediction of “Joy To You Baby”, a song that moves me like little else has in the last two years:

there’s pain in whatever we stumble upon
if i never had met you you couldn’t have gone
but then i couldn’t have met you and we couldn’t have been
i guess it all adds up to joy to the end

I have resolved to be happy every New Year’s for the last few years; some years it works better than others, but this song is my battle call for 2013, and this album is the album of my heartbeat. Joy to you, baby, and joy to me, too. Josh Ritter knows from joy; he knows it every time he stands on stage and sings with his arms open and his smile wide. I saw him perform while his marriage was ending. I saw him perform while he was writing this songs of gut-wrenching ache. I saw him perform “New Lover” when it was a fresh and strange song to all of us who sang back every other word to him that same night. He stood on stage every time and was joyful. He says the he is proud of this record, and I do not doubt that he should be: it is a masterpiece of human emotion, his own singular experience distilled and spilled outward to be the experiences of all of us.

Every time he releases a new record, more people that I know and many that I don’t fall in love with Josh Ritter; I am envious every time, because it means that besides these 13 songs, all those people have all of his other beautiful records to find for the first time. I remember the first time that I heard “Kathleen”, and I remember that it stopped my heart. (It still stops my heart. all the other girls here are stars, and you are the northern lights is the single most romantic lyric in the history of the world, the end.) I am always jealous of people just discovering Josh, but I am particularly jealous of those finding him through The Beast In Its Tracks, because it is, in fact, his finest work. Congratulations, Mr. Ritter. You’ve written a showstopper.

Watch the gorgeous video for “New Lover”, and please be as joyful as you can, wherever you are.

top ten shows of 2011

josh ritter @ mcglohon theatre

I saw 133 shows so far this year, with two left in 2011, but these are the unquestionable top ten. Now with photos. (Josh Ritter in Charlotte above.)

1. Josh Ritter, solo acoustic, at the McGlohon Theatre, Charlotte, 11/2011. I didn’t go to another show this year where I barely breathed from start to finish for the sheer magic of it.

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josh ritter @ mcglohon theatre

josh ritter @ mcglohon theatre

The only word for last night’s solo acoustic Josh Ritter show is “magical”. It was sheer magic, like he always is, and it was perfect.

Setlist: Come And Find Me/Rumours/Me & Jiggs/Wolves/Southern Pacifica/You Don’t Make It Easy Babe/Folk Bloodbath/Rattlin’ Locks/Harrisburg/Sweet Water (? new song)/Girl In The War/What Happened To The Girl I Knew*/In The Dark/Galahad/New Lover Now (? new song)/Best For The Best/Monster Ballads/Kathleen/To The Dogs (Or Whoever)/Change of Time

Encore: Bone Of Song/Hard Times Come Again No More (w/ Sarah Harmer)/Snow Is Gone

(This is the only photo I took. The venue didn’t allow them, but I snuck it, and, you know, I’m learning when to put the camera down, too.)

* this was a love song to sarah palin written after he discovered the university of idaho law school graduated her. it was hilarious.

josh ritter @ the cat’s cradle

josh ritter @ cat's cradle

if there’s a book of jubilations, we’ll have to write it for ourselves

I believe in rock and roll as a religion. I believe that if you close your eyes and tilt your head back, the right live music is capable of transformation and transportation. I believe in the church of effects pedals and goosebumps on your arms and crying because there’s nothing else to do in the face of something so beautiful.

And there is no, no, no one performing today who comes closer to that perfect moment of transformation than Josh Ritter does.

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josh ritter — so runs the world away

Josh Ritter — So Runs The World Away. Out 4/17 on limited release vinyl for Record Store Day 2010; out wide release on 5/4, V2 Records. Thank god for Record Store Day vinyl releases, is all I’m saying.

There’s not much that Josh Ritter and the Drive-By Truckers have in common, but this year, there were a few things; namely, the Truckers’ The Big To-Do and Josh’s So Runs The World Away were two of my most anticipated albums of the year, and the two albums I was most terrified I was going to hate. It’s a different reason for Josh than for the Truckers, though. Unlike Brighter Than Creation’s Dark, Ritter’s 2007 The Historical Conquests Of Josh Ritter is not only my favorite release of his, it’s one of my all-time favorite albums period, one of the most played albums of the nearly 3000 in my iTunes library. (I still think it’s as close to a singularly perfect album that you can reach in this day and age; god, that album.)

I was terrified I was going to hate the new release, because I loved the one before it so much.

And in both cases, I shouldn’t have worried, because I flat-out love So Runs The World Away like I loved The Big To-Do. I love it differently from all of Josh’s previous stuff, but I love it; I don’t want the artists I love to make the same album over and over again, I just always want them to make a new and different album that I can love. This one hits that.

Continue reading “josh ritter — so runs the world away”