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  • Rich Kassirer

Concert Review: Josh Ritter at the Orpheum

Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band at the Orpheum.
Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band at the Orpheum.

There are some shows you hype so much in your head that by the time you actually see the show, it’s a letdown. Let’s just say this, that never happens for a Josh Ritter show. Because as great as you expect it to be, it’s always better — way better.

Josh and his old faithful, but newly dubbed, Royal City Band came to the Orpheum last night and delivered a show that was not only entertaining but masterful. There is no artist I can think of who seems to have as good a time on stage as he does, and no band that can go from subtlety and quiet to full-on rocking out.

The setlist is below, but the highlights are many.

The band strolled on to “Curtains,” the instrumental that opens the new album, “So Runs the World Away.” The seamlessly picked up the orchestration of the song on their instruments and then in semi-darkness segued into “Change of Time.” “Southern Pacifica” followed before they launched full-blast into “Rumors,” which included some tough-ass playing from guitarist Austin Nevins.

They brought things down a notch for wonderful versions of “Folk Bloodbath,” “Monster Ballads” and “Good Man.” The crowd was great, participating in singalongs as necessary but also singing quietly enough to let Josh’s voice be heard.  When Josh hit the chorus, “I’m a good man,” well-deserved cheers, hoots and hollers went up all around.

It was here the show hit the next gear. With “Rattling Locks,” Josh took to a small keyboard, Sam moved to electric drums, and Darius Zehlka, the bands’ manager, came out to pound on drums and cymbals next to drummer Liam. Zack took center stage leading the band in the huge percussive intro while Austin knifed in the heavy guitar lines.

After the mayhem, it was back to quiet, and the magical song “The Curse.” It’s just amazing how the band goes from muscular to delicate in a matter of a song. Sam’s piano filled in the beautiful melody behind Josh’s amazing story song about a mummy falling in love with an archeologist.

The Paul Simon-esque “Lark” followed and then another treat: Josh solo doing Springsteen’s “The River.” And while the crowd was in a hushed faze, Josh had all the lights turned off, moved to the front of the stage and delivered a completely acoustic “In the Dark.” The crowd quietly helping out with the ooohs.

The band came back on and charged into “Kathleen” and the audience went nuts, rising to their feet and dancing in the aisles, as if they had finally gotten the invitation they were waiting for to party. And the band kept it right, cranking up “Right Moves” and  brining them back down a notch with “Girl in the War.”

And then another special treat. Sam’s mom (my stepmom) was invited up on stage to read Edgar Allen Poe’s “Annabelle Lee” backed by the band before launching into “Another New World.” But there was no time to catch our respective breaths because “Harrisburg” was right on its heals, complete with Zack’s wonderous version of “Wicked Game.” The set finally wound to an end with a joyous “Lantern” and incredible, fast version of “To the Dogs,” which ended with the boys in stop-motion, holding their pose for nearly a minute before completing the final notes to the song.

Phew! A break to realize what we had all witnessed… a band completely in charge and in sync.

Back for the encore, “Hello Starling” led it off to more cheers and hysterics from the crowd. The older songs got the loudest cheers and really got the crowd going. The opening act, the Punch Brothers, were brought on stage to play the silly “Next to the Last True Romantic” (see my video below), and finish up the night in a mostly a cappella, finger-snapping  “Wait for Love.”

To see my pics, click HERE

THE SETLIST Curtains Change of Time Southern Pacifica Rumors Folk Bloodbath Monster Ballads Good Man Rattling Locks The Curse Lark The River In the Dark (literally in the dark) Kathleen Right Moves Girl in the War Another New World (w/ reading of Poe poem by Sam’s mom) Harrisburg (w/ Zack’s Wicked Game) Lantern To the Dogs —– Starling Last True Romantic (w/ Punch Brothers) Wait for Love (w/ Punch Brothers)

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