For a songwriter known for his jubilant onstage demeanor and omnipresent smile, it may have seemed quite odd for Josh Ritter to open his concert with “Idaho,” an enigmatic lullaby with an acoustic guitar as his only accompaniment. What such an artistic choice does, however, is speak to the deftness of his songs and his ability to command an audience to follow him through a range of emotions—muted contemplation, wry humor, wistful nostalgia, and the warm fulfillment of a new lover’s arms. Ritter’s songs covered all of these emotions on Saturday, May 21st to an audience of nearly 600 at Kansas City’s Madrid Theater. Joined by the stout Royal City Band, Ritter bounced, smiled, strummed, and barnstormed through 19 songs in a well-paced 100 minutes that never wavered or meandered. The only drawback was the persistent crackle of the stage’s left speaker, an imperfection that distracted during the evening’s quieter moments and further muddied the already less-than-ideal sound. Luckily, Ritter’s songs and his Royal City Band were better than the venue. This particular iteration of the Royal City Band features Josh Kaufman on guitar, and his lead was featured prominently throughout the night, most notably on “Young Moses,” where he channeled Mark Knopfler, and on the galloping “Getting Ready to Get Down,” which also featured a rapid fire delivery from Ritter, whose verbosity might seem like an annoyance if not for the rhythm, flow, and precision of the his words.
Ritter’s songs are complex, enigmatic, sometimes humorous, and almost always more nuanced and sophisticated than they may initially appear. This feature was most obvious on “Monster Ballads,” perhaps Ritter’s finest moment as a songwriter. There are biblical allusions, complex metaphors, and subtle turns of phrase that reveal something new on each subsequent listen. Songs like these were well-received by an attentive, engaged audience whose quiet courtesy respected the level of contemplation required to fully appreciate Ritter’s delicate songs. Taking sporadic breaks from the Royal City Band, Ritter played two solo acoustic songs towards the end of his set—the melancholic “Best for the Best” and “Snow is Gone,” a hopeful song about springtime, chirping birds, new beginnings, and the “confectionary airs” of first encounters with soon-to-be lovers. As Ritter sings, “I’m singing for the love of it – have mercy on the man who sings to be adored.” Ritter proves that having such an intention is fully capable of producing more than enough adoration on its own. One need not look for it—if you write songs as good as Ritter’s, that adoration will find you eventually.
Idaho; Birds of the Meadow; Young Moses; Right Moves; Henrietta, Indiana; Monster Ballads; Where the Night Goes; Hopeful; Seeing Me ‘Round; (new song); When Will I Be Changed; Cumberland; The Stone; Best for the Best; Snow Is Gone; Getting Ready to Get Down; Homecoming; Change of Time; Lillian, Egypt.