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  • Rich Kassirer

Concert Review: Josh Ritter in Portland, Maine, 10/22/10

Josh Ritter dons a party dress in Portland, Maine.
Josh Ritter dons a party dress in Portland, Maine.

First, the bullet points for those in a hurry to hear the details:

1) I got this close to riding the tour bus from Portland to Northampton… damn those family obligations! 2) The Portland crowd is a rowdy bunch. Hey, State Theatre bouncer guys: Let the women dance in front of the stage. It’s a rock concert! 3) Josh did indeed don a “party” dress in celebration of his birthday! 4) Josh unveiled a new song titled “Sir Galahad, a bawdy-lyriced tune he performed solo.

 OK. Here now the details:

The recently renovated State Theatre in Portland is really cozy and comfortable, and I’m guessing seats 1,200 maybe a little more. The place was not filled but it was pretty well packed and the crowd was rowdy. Loud songs, quiet songs, the crowd was into it. During some of the quieter numbers guys (GUYS!) were yelling that they loved Josh. I think toward the end the band decided to heck with the quiet songs and rocked the house!

 Oh yeah, before I get too far: the Low Anthem opened, and despite playing a rather short set (I think about a half hour), they really sounded great. I’ve seen them a couple of times and they rocked a little more this time, which was good.

 Josh opened with a solo “Idaho.” I remembering him opening with this song during the “Animal Years” tour. It’s really special. I think “The Other Side” was solo too but my recollection is a little hazy, followed by the full band on “Good Man” and “Wolves.” The interesting thing here is that it isn’t until the fifth song, “Long Shadows,” that we hear anything from the new album. This makes me think that this tour isn’t necessarily a “new album” tour but the band seems to be now meshing all their albums’ songs together.

  When the new songs did come, they came in groups. The beautiful waltzing “The Curse” and “Lark,” with Liam on rattles and shakers rather than drums backing Josh and Zack. Not even sure if Austin and Sam were playing on that tune. It was stellar in its sparseness. They rocked out “Rumors” and the crowd went nuts. “Folk Bloodbath” sort of finished that set.   The band then left the stage and Josh performed solo on “Roll On” and “Girl in the War” and then introduced a new song called “Sir Galahad.” I wish I could remember the lyrics but I know there’s a mention of a hand job in there, believe it or not. Hopefully someone shot video. I foolishly did not. Josh then sang “In the Dark” in total darkness, sans microphone. It’s always really cool to hear him (and not see him) do this.

  The band came back for “Southern Pacifica” and a slightly sped-up version of Neil Young’s “Pocahontus.”

  It must have been around this time that the band decided that the crowd was too restless for the slow stuff and just went full speed ahead. “Real Long Distance,” “Right Moves” and “Lantern” got people out of their seats and dancing. A bunch of women charged the stage and began wildly dancing right in front of Josh, but the bouncers kept pushing them back. Josh pleaded for them, “Don’t sit down!” Don’t worry, they would be back.

  To encourage them, the band charged into “Kathleen” (often left for the encore), then “Harrisburg.”  At the break of “Harrisburg,” Josh breaks into the Talking Heads’ “Once in a Liftetime” — “You may tell yourself this is not my beautiful home/you may tell yourself this is not my beautiful wife…”

 The last song of the set was “To the Dogs,” which rocked and finished with the band in stop motion as they did on the last tour. It must have been a complete minute before they slammed home the final chords of the song. Tremendous. They had hit the two-hour mark of the night and still weren’t done.

  For the encore, Josh came out and played a solo “Come and Find Me” and the band returned for raucous “Lillian, Egypt.” This is where the dress comes in… during the break of “Lillian,” Zack retrieves a bag from sidestage and humorously complains that on Thursday it was Josh’s birthday, and that this was the first year that Josh’s birthday didn’t fall while they were on tour. But not to worry. We were in the midst of a party and, therefore, Josh must don his “party dress.” I don’t think Zack could have found an uglier outfit but Josh good naturedly (of course) put it on and completed the song and the show wearing the dress. It ended a completely fun, entertaining and rocking night of music.

THE SETLIST Idaho (solo) Other Side Good Man Wolves Long Shadows The Curse Lark Rumors Folk Bloodbath Roll On (solo) Girl in the War (solo) Sir Galahad (new song!) (solo) In the Dark (sang in the dark/no mike) (solo) Southern Pacifica Pocahontus (Neil Young cover) Long Distance Right Moves Lantern Kathleen Harrisburg (with Talking Heads’ Once in a Lifetime) To the Dogs —- Come and Find Me (with Pretty Saro lead-in) (solo) Lillian

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