Josh Ritter solidified himself on a list I've had bouncing around in my head last night. He's on the list of my generation's best songwriters. At 30, he's already able to write (dare I say it) Dylanesque or Springsteenesque (both Bob and Bruce are listed as influences) songs that express a uniquely Ritteresque perspective. Okay, I promise not to use esque again. But nonetheless he joins the likes of Ryan Adams, Colin Meloy, Matthew Ryan, Fiona Apple, Damien Rice, Ben Gibbard and Chan Marshall on my list of great songwriters. The list is continually growing as more and more artists show their songwriting chops, and Josh Ritter is just now catching on.
The evening began with a couple showcases of great female talents with Nicki Chambly and Laura Gibson (from Oregon, wooo). I was thoroughly entertained by them both. Nicki Chambly has the sultry quality of Chan Marshall (without the twitchy stage presence) and her songs are well crafted and well suited for the intimate venue. Laura Gibson has an endearing quality to her on stage personality as well as her music. Her set was fantastic and her stories and delivery of said stories was perfect.
The third act of the evening was Etienne de Rocher. I hadn't heard of Etienne prior to last night, but his performance came off well. First impressions are everything, and for the Berkeley based songwriter, his impression worked. The crowd was gracious with all the performers, and Etienne's stage presence added to the enthusiasm.
Josh Ritter took the stage amidst a ton of anticipation. The house lights were dropped and the crowd cheered the "bumper" music of Johnny Cash's "The Night Hank Williams Came To Town." Josh ran on stage and that kicked off an amazing set that showed his belonging to the list I mentioned above. I'm not sure about the order of the songs (I'm not that good), but I think he started off with "Monster Ballads" or maybe "Good Man" and I know he closed the night with an acapella rendition of the traditional Irish song "The Parting Glass." He played all the songs I've come to love over the last couple of years including "Kathleen," "Harrisburg," "Girl in the War," "The Snow is Gone," and the haunting "Thin Blue Flame." The energy and enthusiasm that Josh brought to his performance were undeniable. He doesn't hold back emotion or stories that pop into his head between songs. Whether it's his invention of a new winter Olympic sport or wanting to be a skateboarder while living on a gravel road, it's no wonder from his stories how his mind works on an unconventional plane and that's where his wonderful music comes from. If you have a chance to catch Josh Ritter or any of the other acts from last nights show, I highly recommend it. And if you haven't bought Josh Ritter's CD The Animal Years, I think it's about time you do.
Addendum: I forgot to mention that Heather from I Am Fuel, You Are Friends was there last night. I didn't meet her nor did I recognize her in the sea of faces, but I'm sure she'll have a much better review than mine.