Vicar Street is one of the capital’s most loved venues. Intimate, immaculately clean and secure. So secure in fact that a once over with metal detectors upon entry is now deemed necessary at a Josh Ritter show. If we can’t enjoy a healthy slice of lyrical country/folk without worrying about the threat of impending violence we must be hurtling towards global doom. The Middle America that serves as the landscape for much of Ritter’s work propels us ever closer to it.
Support act Anais Mitchell is cut from the same cloth as Ritter. There’s a healthy crowd on hand for her set too. Well-crafted folk songs delivered with a powerful but delicate stage presence.
Ritter arrives on stage to ‘Shaker Love Song (Leah)’ the opening track from most recent album Gathering. Dressed from head-to-toe in black Ritter cuts a svelte figure, almost like a young Johnny Cash. The quality of Ritter’s band is immediately evident. As early as the third song – ‘Showboat’ – the combination of Ritter’s incredible sense of melody and the band’s razor sharp playing evokes memories of The Band’s Last Waltz concert. Guitarist Josh Kaufman plays with the same ebbing and flowing aggression that made Robbie Robertson one of the great guitar players, a force of nature throughout.
The portions of the evening led by just Josh and his guitar are met with deathly silence. Amazing restraint is even shown by the Snapchat/Instagram magpies with only the odd, isolated mobile phone glow on show. From the top shelf it looks like one of those really basic diagrams of a constellation of stars.
Songs like ‘Henrietta, Indiana’ and ‘Getting Ready to Get Down’ showcase the band brilliantly while serving as an example of the variety in Ritter’s song writing. The crowd jubilantly bobs up and down, it’s the closest Dublin has coming to line dancing since Break for the Border’s heyday. There are various combinations on stage including a Soggy Bottom Boys influenced set with the whole band gathered around a gleaming ‘50s style microphone.
The open chords of ‘Snow Is Gone’ are met with euphoric yelps from the crowd to whom it’s a nailed on anthem. On the night it sounds like it couldn’t be anything but. Songs like ‘Me and Jiggs’, ‘Kathleen’ and ‘Hopeful’ all have their roots in country while all leaning in their own direction entirely. Even without being a fully-fledged Ritter devotee it’s impossible not to admired the depth of his catalogue.
In the coldest, most cynical sense Ireland has always been a fertile market place for Ritter and his music but tonight it feels more like his spiritual home. Verbose, evocative lyrics full of melody and yearning, everything our own writers cultivate so richly. It’s no wonder he’s been taken so readily to our musical bosom. A truly incredible show from Dublin’s adopted Dylan.
Ritter is an artist that Ireland and Dublin in particular has taken to its dairy deprived bosom. It show’s in the adulation lapping at him in waves tonight.