Concerts almost always leave me uplifted for days. It doesn't matter how tired I am, in this case still recovering from jet lag, going to see a live show will always leave me feeling rejuvenated and happy.
It's been two days since Dan and I went to the Henry Fonda Theater to see Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band. I am still completely elated.
Josh Ritter is the best song writer that I've ever come across. I discovered him a few years ago, when he co-headlined with my favorite band, the Old 97's. As much as I love the Old 97's, Ritter completely blew me away. In fact, this month, I had to pick between seeing Ritter or Rhett Miller (97's front man), and Ritter won. He doesn't tour in Los Angeles frequently and I couldn't pass up seeing him live.
The show was at my favorite venue, the Henry Fonda in Hollywood. It's a smallish venue that is well run and has a cool vibe. I'm always excited when a band that I love books a show at the Fonda.
The openers were a fantastic Brooklyn based band called Lake Street Dive. They had a unique soulful sound. The lead singer has an extremely powerful and unexpected voice. The bass player was a stand out and they use a trumpet in a few songs. Cool right? They're unique and worth checking out. It's always exciting when the openers are a great discovery, plus they really got the crowd pumped for Ritter.
We had floor tickets and stood near the mixing boards. I've never had floor tickets at the Fonda and it was a great experience. My feet may have hurt from standing, but it was a good trade-off to be in the mix with the crowd. It's a different energy level. Although the balcony has a nice sitting area, it just feels like a superior concert experience to be on the floor.
Dan stole a look at the set list on the mixer and we discovered that Ritter was opening with Idaho. This was a surprise. I'm so used to concerts starting with a power house song, that it was something different to see Ritter start the show, alone on stage with his guitar, playing a a quiet song.
It turned out to be the perfect way to open his set. Ritter's latest album, The Beast in its Tracks, is his most personal, written during his painful divorce. Ritter's set list, both old and new songs, was comprised of those songs that are his most reflective and emotive. The concert had many quiet moments, where the audience was completely silent in rapt attention. At one point, Ritter sang an entire song without amplification. I've only seen a few other acts do this in concert and it feels like such a personal moment. It's these special moments that I treasure most about going to concerts.
When we entered the venue, we were given a blank paper airplane and asked to write our burdens on it. I kept it simple and wrote down my two current troubles, jet lag and bank issues. If this mortgage refinance doesn't get settled soon, I'll go crazy!!!! Dan wrote down the not so subtle hint, "No Dog".
Towards the end of the concert, actor Rainn Wilson came on stage to explain the airplanes. The airplane idea was put together by Wilson's company, Soul Pancake. We were to release our burdens to tie in with Ritter's album theme.
It was unexpectedly cool to see all of the airplanes and streamers flying in the air as Ritter started to play "Good Man", one of my favorite songs. Dan took a video of it.
Admittedly, there were three songs that I really wish had been included in the set- Girl in the War, Change of Time and Monster Ballads. I was disappointed. However, it was okay, because Ritter played for two solid hours and all of his songs are so, so good. He has so much wonderful material, that I can't imagine the task of putting together a set list. Even though some of my favorites didn't make the cut, I think the set was perfect for the tone of the tour.
Not only is Ritter such a masterful writer and musician, but he puts on a hell of a live show. He doesn't go in for big theatrics, it's a technically simple show. What makes Ritter stand out, is he always looks so joyful. He loves what he's doing and it shows. He sings with raw emotion and his ever present smile is contagious.
The new album is amazing. Ritter mentioned that when he started writing the songs, he was in an angry state of mind. Instead of rushing to release them, he took extra time for much needed perspective and reworked them, instead of leaving them marred with bitterness. The album is deeply reflective, the songs coming from a place of hard lessons learned and personal growth. Many of the lyrics are alternately sad and beautiful and ultimately a reminder that things will always get better. Ritter knows how to state something perfectly, he is a poet and storyteller. If you have not bought the new album, get it now!!!