LIVE: Josh Ritter @ The Egg, 10/14/11
It is hard for a solo performer to play in a concert hall. Standing alone in the middle of the venue can be intimidating. Besides, the main point of performing solo is to have an intimate connection with the audience. Luckily, the Swyer Theater at The Egg in Albany is the perfect place. It is large enough to hold a good size crowd – and the theater was nearly full on Friday – without overpowering the artist. Both John Wesley Harding and Josh Ritter were up to the task.
First up, Harding had the look and feel of a seasoned performer. He grabbed the audience’s attention with “Sing Your Own Song” and didn’t let go until he was finished. His songs ranged from wistful (“I Should Have Stopped”) to humorous (“Uncle Dad”). One of the more poignant songs was the tongue-in-cheek, “There’s a Starbucks (Where a Starbucks Used to Be),” about what is lost in the name of progress. Harding didn’t appear completely alone, however – he was joined via iPod by his five-year-old daughter Tilda who sang a bit of the B-52’s “Give Me Back My Man.”
Ritter seemed almost nervous and cautious in the beginning; as if he was aware there was no band around him. He ran through his opening songs, “Bandits,” “You Don’t Make It Easy” and “Southern Pacifica” with barely a pause or nod to the audience. I did notice, however, an impish grin that carried throughout the show. It was as if this was a private joke that only he understood, and that he knew he would let the rest of us in as the evening went on. What struck me the most was the fact that his lyrics were not just easy rhymes, but, instead, well thought-out stories. It’s no surprise that he is also an accomplished author (as is John Wesley Harding). His voice, at times, reminded me of Paul Simon on songs like “Lark.” He showed the grin was not just an act with “Galahad,” a song you won’t hear on the radio. He opened up his encore with a little science lesson with “Stuck To You,” an interesting (and entertaining) take on a love song.
While Harding opened up quickly and held on, Ritter was more slow and deliberate to get to that point; the difference between a short opening set and a headliner set, both were able to control the show and had the audience wanting more. Each performer made it look as if there were no other place they would rather be.
Review by Ed Conway
Josh Ritter photographs by Ed Conway
John Wesley Harding photograph by Andrzej Pilarczyk
JOSH RITTER SET LIST
You Don’t Make It Easy, Babe
One More Mouth
Sarah (new song)
Another New World
Change of Time
Stuck to You
Snow Is Gone
JOHN WESLEY HARDING SET LIST
An Audience With You
Sing Your Own Song
There’s a Starbucks (Where a Starbucks Used to Be)
Sussex Ghost Story
I Should Have Stopped
The Devil in Me