With special effects, spectacular lighting tricks, and pre-recorded instrumentals, it’s really easy for a lot of musicians to dial in their live performances these days. Too many singers go on tour, but end up looking so bored up on stage, it’s difficult to decide if it’s more painful of an experience for them or the audience. Josh Ritter isn’t one of these people. The American singer-songwriter was so joyful, thankful, and enthusiastic while up on stage, I felt a bit jaded that I had expected any less.
The 36-year-old Idaho-born singer and guitarist brought his Royal City Band to Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom on March 22 as part of his 2013 The Beast In Its Tracks Tour. After openers Lake Street Dive—whose vocalist Rachael Price and accompanying three instrumentalists killed it on a cover of Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back” —Ritter took to the stage, starting with the gentle, acoustic “Idaho” from 2006’s The Animal Years.
The Royal City Band—consisting of Zack Hickman, Sam Kassirer, Austin Nevins, and Liam Hurley—joined Ritter on stage for the next tune, the slightly longing “Southern Pacifica” from 2010’s So Runs the World Away. While handsome harmonies and Nevins’ lap steel added depth to the choruses, the song—and the show—kicked into high gear with the entrance of the drums about three-quarters of the way through.
Ritter’s Americana folksongs reference everyone from Paul Simon—on 2013’s “New Lover” —to Bob Dylan—the powerful “Harrisburg” from 2000’s Golden Age of Radio—but his songwriting skills shined most brightly that night on bluegrass-tinged numbers, like the forlorn “Appleblossom Rag” and “Folk Bloodbath”. There were several softly magical moments during Ritter’s performance as well: “The Curse” early on, with its whimsical French waltz on the piano and haunting lyrics; and during “In the Dark”, where Ritter asked for all the stage lights to be switched off, and he sang only with his own guitar accompaniment and audiences “oohs” at the end of each chorus.
But above all, the night was joyful, with plenty of dancing and audience sing-alongs on popular numbers such as “Joy to You Baby” and “Good Man”. Ritter’s genuine excitement and gratitude towards his dedicated fan-base was palpable, with what felt like a little more effort and a little more heart poured into every song, and the biggest smile painted across his face.