Josh Ritter, Vicar Street, Dublin, 11th DecemberIdaho-born Josh Ritter seems to have taken up permanent residence in these parts over the past year - a quick glance at any billboard and you're pretty much guaranteed to see his face staring back at you. After this recent performance in Vicar Street, though, all I can say is that's fine by me.
By this stage, Ritter has played support in Vicar Street so often (most recently with Beth Orton) that he must have squatter's rights in Vicar Street. This time, though, James Yorkston and the Athletes, who also backed up David Gray in The Point last month, supported him. Technically, The Athletes were pitch perfect and their gentle, layered acoustic sounds suited this venue far better than The Point where, it must be said, they sounded more than a little lost.
Josh Ritter arrived on stage in a small, cheap suit, but with a big hairstyle; looking uncannily like Nick Drake. He opened up the set with 'Other Side', playing a slower version than usual that worked well. Initially, Ritter seemed a little nervous, even overwhelmed, to be headlining his first gig in Vicar Street, but the warmth of the crowd's reaction to 'Me & Jiggs' saw him settle down fairly quickly. By the time he'd played 'Harrisburg', accompanied by what seemed like the entire crowd, he seemed totally at ease. In fact, I've never been to such a genuinely good-natured gig - every note sung, every chord played and every joke cracked was greeted by waves of applause and friendly heckling.
And boy, can Josh Ritter sing. Whether singing in a soft, raspy whisper or belting out with gusto, he hit every note with ease, much to the crowd's delight. It was obvious that Ritter was really enjoying himself, too, judging by the big, megawatt grin that spread across his face after every song, and he thanked the crowd profusely throughout the whole performance.
There was plenty of banter with the crowd too, as Ritter recounted his travel tales of woe and dedicated 'Last ditch effort (see you try)' to Ryanair. The band took a short break, leaving Ritter to perform a slower set alone. Blended into the mix were some new songs that will be included on his new album, the recording of which is due to start in February. On a more poignant note, he apologised for being unable to make the recent Mic Christopher tribute concert and recalled a story of going on the pull with him in Kilkenny, dedicating 'Paint your picture' to his memory.
The band came back on to play a faster set that included 'Hotel song', 'Leaves and kings' and 'The Frying-pan song', played for laughs with a little judicious ad-libbing. An enthusiastic fan leapt up on stage at this point and presented Ritter with, strangely enough, one of his old suit jackets that he threw out after some other Irish gig, all cleaned and mended - fair enough, judging by the looks of the suit he was wearing that night. Looking ever so slightly bemused, he was gracious enough to remember his manners and thanked her before continuing the set with the brilliant 'Golden age of radio', where, once again, he was joined by the same girl from the front row, who invited herself back up on stage to accompany him on vocals. He took it in his stride though, and belted out a great version.
After a show like this one, there was no way that Josh Ritter would be allowed home without giving us an encore. And he didn't disappoint. Joined onstage by the under-rated Mark Geary, Ritter handed over his guitar and the two duetted on a new song called 'Ghosts' that held the crowd in complete hushed silence. In contrast, as he started to play 'Come and find me', Ritter invited the crowd to sing along. There was no need to ask. As the whole of Vicar Street sang along with him, it was obvious just how much the crowd had enjoyed the performance - as much as Josh Ritter himself had, judging by his grin.
Mary Anne Kenny.