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Josh Ritter Live at the Stone Pony

June 28, 2012 3 comments

Josh Ritter knows how to work an audience. He comes on stage beaming. I have never seem a man do happy to be performing in front of an audience. He is constantly in motion, which is unusual for a folk musician. Perhaps that’s why he put together a powerful band of musicians. The full experience does push his songs over the coffeehouse singer-songwriter mark.

Tonight he played before a packed house at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park. It was a warm up night for his tour. He told the crowd that the band hadn’t performed in 6 months. For musicians that can be a career.

There were many new songs, and I will admit that some of the old ones were barely familiar to me while some in the crowd sang along to every word. Ritter clearly relished this, often pulling away from the mic to allow the voices from the audience a chance to shine through.

Until you spend a couple if hours with the man and his songs, you might not realize the extent that religious imagery dominates his songwriting. His narratives steal equally from folk tradition and religious tales. What’s striking, however, is how how playful the biblical characters are. There’s no great deference given. They joke and they kid and they come on to King Arthur’s nights, and often represent sexual ecstasy. This is no bloodless born again philosophy. Saints are never too far away from scoundrels.

The highlight of the night was a rambunctious version of “Harrisburg” that segued into “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”. Josh stopped right before the high note. His band fell silent. He unbuttoned his collar. Took a deep breath. This was totally out of his range. Then he fucking nailed that high note. Ghaaaaaa-uh-uh-un.

Then it was back to “Harrisburg”. But the message was clear. Nothing is out of bounds.

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