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.
Last night’s sold out show at the Cat’s Cradle wasn’t the best Josh Ritter show I’ve seen (May 2008 at the Cradle, life-changing), mostly because the packed crowd was Chapel Hill-typical stoic, but it was, in its wild moments, exactly that sort of transformative. During the last soaring chorus of “Kathleen”, during the fierce drive towards the end of “Harrisburg” — and, seriously, Chapel Hill, I was shooting from the back of the Cradle at that point, and about four people were moving, which actually technically makes the rest of you dead — the moments of music that are so unexpected and tremendous that the hair on your arms stands up and you actually feel that shiver of electricity up your spine.
Josh Ritter commands that power in the palm of his hand, and he does it while grinning like a maniac the entire time he’s on stage: there is no one in the world who loves their job more than Josh Ritter loves his.
He and the Royal City Band — his usual crew of touring musicians, who I’m glad to know have finally gotten an official name, because they’re fantastic, and I am not just referring to Zach Hickman’s mustache, though it is glorious — powered through a nearly two hour set, most of last year’s stellar So Runs The World Away (although not “Lanterns”, the track I most wanted to hear) and a large chunk of Josh’s crowd-pleasing sing-along favorites. I didn’t hear everything I wanted to — Josh rarely does “Here At The Right Time” or “Hotel Song” live, for example — but I didn’t hear anything I didn’t want to hear, and he pulled out his gorgeous epic anti-war anthem “Thin Blue Flame”, a song I never thought I’d get to hear live. They also did a startlingly lovely unplugged cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes”, which I wouldn’t have thought would work but did.
And he closed the main set with my beloved “Kathleen”, a sad and funny and enormous version of it, and a heartbreakingly lovely sing-along version of “Change of Time”, a song that I didn’t realize the power of until the crowd was singing the counterpoint chorus back at Josh, unmicced and soaring.
I believe in rock and roll as a religion, and all this show proved for me was that belief is the truth.
Set list: Wings/The Other Side/Mind’s Eye/Wolves/Right Moves/Lillian, Egypt/Southern Pacific/Folk Bloodbath/Rattling Locks/Harrisburg/The Curse/Galahad/Snow Is Gone/Pale Blue Eyes/Thin Blue Flame/Rumors/Kathleen/Change of Time
Encore: Real Long Distance Call/To The Dogs Or Whoever
Full photo set, including opener Yellowbirds, here.