Ritter Strikes Like a Thunderbolt at The Egg March 5

ALBANY – Josh Ritter hopped on stage at The Egg Sunday, March 5th, with the energy and spirit of a teenager, moving his lanky arms into a friendly wave that revealed his midwestern upbringing of warmth. The smiling, clean-cut forty-six-year-old Ritter promised and delivered a full set list, although he lamented it would probably go “straight to hell” once he got playing. The humble singer-songwriter with over 25 years of international performances added, “If I forget any verses, I’ll come back to them later.”

Ritter launched into his set with capable guitar picking and vocals as he sang “New Lover,” a sweet song about being loved with a hint of longing for a past lover. That poetry created a vibe for the entire night, offering lively energy sprinkled in with philosophical questions that slightly tinged the joy.

As he stomped his feet and danced, Ritter sang out “Feels Like Lightening” and demonstrated how talented musicians use volume, tempo and lyrics to quickly shift emotions and play with the audience. While he initially apologized for the set list, as he blazed through it, one quickly realized how paradoxical that entrance was for the evening. Ritter shifted his energy, often within songs, bringing the audience through a wide range of emotions with him.

Photo by Jim Gilbert

Well-known for speaking and reading during his previous shows, Ritter didn’t do that much on Sunday night. Instead, he sang song after song, smiling as if his face might split in two. “For a while there, ” he paused, considering the pandemic, “It was one long Punxsutawney Phil moment.” As he recalled paring down what was important to him, Ritter shared he was “thrilled to be back playing live music.”

His pleasure showed, and the audience’s response matched it. Ritter was sheer fun to watch, and while he frequently lamented his poor memory, it only appeared a few times to be an issue. The bigger issue was the microphone, which at one point sparked by his mouth mid-song. He smiled as he asked the audience if they also saw it, paused, and then added, “I love you guys,” in case he was shocked, and these were his final moments.

Even with the technical problems, Ritter roared through a high-energy set. He stepped in front of the microphone to decrease the odds of problems there, and commanded the audience’s full attention regardless of the sound difficulties.

Ritter’s lyrics reveal a romantic, but also paradoxically a truth-teller. His well-known song “Kathleen” brought cheers from the audience, and while it was beautifully performed, my personal favorites were “Some Somewhere” and “Thunderbolt.” If you feel hopeless about love, the lyrics “I thought the sun was going down / but the sun was coming up” will lift your heart with renewed hope.

Ritter’s lyrics also challenge the listener to truly think, often leading to laughter but also some deeper philosophical questions. And while I could listen to his picking all night, I found his lyrics and messages haunting me with unanswered questions as we drove home. “Theophany” raised a question I had never considered: what would a god do if released from the demands of human prayer? “Truth is a Dimension” brought me in circles about where reality is and how to best define that reality.

Ritter’s politics were frank and on open display in his humor. While he often sings about faith, he also pointed out in one song, “Blessed are the poor…and happy are those that get out.” He slipped in jokes about Ron Desantis that elicited chuckles from the crowd.

Ritter played his “Get Ready to Get Down” during his encore set of three, which almost brought the crowd into the aisles dancing. Feet were stomping, heads were swaying, and listeners became audible singers for a few moments.

The theatre was full, and sadly the audience didn’t seem to regard theatre etiquette. The loud coughing and sneezing reflected that many hadn’t learned from the pandemic to stay home sick. One audience member’s sneezes were so frequent that Ritter himself wished the person a “God Bless you.” During Ritter’s closing version of “The Parting Glass,” someone’s cell phone rang and rang… and rang. Ritter laughed it off, even shifting the lyrics to being about the person’s cell phone plan. But it was a beautiful moment disrupted unnecessarily.

Overall, Ritter’s messages of joy were transmitted in feet-stomping, quick-picking, fast-paced lyrics that made me laugh and connect with his quick-witted barbs about how society judges human behavior. The set list was demanding, and his energy appeared eternal. When Ritter “gets down” to Nippertown again, folk and Americana fans are encouraged to go for a knee-slapping, deep-thinking good time.

  1. JP says

    Great review, Laura! I would have been there if it hadn’t been a school night. Saw Josh the last time he was at the Egg. Could you please post the full setlist if you have it?

  2. James says

    Great review Laura! What a wonderful evening of music. It was very nice to meet and chat with you before the show. I will look forward to seeing down the road, hopefully at an Avett Bros show.

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