It was only by a quirk of fate that I found myself in Dublin’s fair city on a Monday night in early December; so imagine my excitement at finding Josh Ritter was playing an intimate gig in a Church. An e-mail or two later, I found myself standing at the back of a beautiful venue watching Stephen Kellogg win over the audience with his intelligent songs and witty chat.
In keeping with the venue’s ‘day job’ sound and lighting were kept to a minimum, meaning only the front for or five rows got to hear the singers banter and possible song intro’s and the rest got lost in the cavernous roof of the building.
Kellogg’s singing was fine and a couple of the songs We Belong Here (?) & Ingrid’s Song were especially good. I Forgive You, which was dedicated to Nelson Mandela who had died two days previously, was particularly poignant and received sustained and well deserved applause at the end.
Josh Ritter is an artist that has pretty much passed me by over the years, although several friends are absolute sycophants, slavering at the prospect of every new release. So, I had nothing to compare tonight’s concert with. But, as always, I approached it with an open mind.
Looking very dapper in their ‘Sunday Best’ suits the trio all looked very excited as they gently strummed the intro to Wildfires, whose hushed tones set the mood for a beautiful evening of Lo-Fi Americana.
This was followed by an almost ethereal Southern Pacific; which featured the softest plucked Double Bass I’ve ever heard. Ritter changed his guitar for the next song, Darlin’ while the other two took up a banjo and a tiny pump-organ. The sound they created was as dour as Lowlands Scots Folk music; but was also one of the highlights of the evening.
As the evening progressed I found it increasingly difficult to pin-point Josh Ritter’s ‘genre’ as they seamlessly included Jazz melodies with Folk tunes and a Bluegrass instrumentation and on Wolves they may even have included a bit of Western Swing just to baffle me!
Their fans, on the other hand sat transfixed; hanging on every note and word coming from the shadows in front of the alter.
Because of the lack of amplification; and the singer’s choice to stand a foot or so away from the microphone, it was difficult at times to make out some of Ritter’s singing and all of his funny stories (I know they were funny because people at the front laughed out loud) and when they invited the audience to clap along to Long Shadows even the instruments got lost too.
Not that the other two needed a rest; but it was nice to hear Josh Ritter play a couple of solo songs; and Another New World was not only the most memorable song of the evening; but a highlight of my musical year too. Ritter’s soft voice and almost Classical guitar playing had 300 people holding their breath for five minutes so as not to miss a note; and the applause at the end almost shook the ancient rafters.
For the first time in a long time, the standing ovation that greeted the trio at the end of the concert appeared deserved and spontaneous; much to the musician’s apparent delight.
After a mind numbing thirty seconds they returned for two more exquisite songs with the first; Little Egypt immediately stunning the audience into immediate silence and the finale Wait For Love was probably a case of ‘keeping the best for last’ as it truly was a Masterpiece from an incredibly clever singer and songwriter.
Although I genuinely had problems hearing the in-between song banter; the actual performance, presentation and atmosphere made this concert what we used to call an ‘experience’ as much as it was anything.
c/o Gildedalm Promotions