Last Night: Josh Ritter at the Granada Theater

Josh Ritter, The Mynabirds
The Granada Theater
June 15, 2010

Better than: watching both hours of Hell's Kitchen on TV.

Michels_JoshRitter_024.jpg
Patrick Michels
For more pictures from last night's show, check the slideshow.

Six years and three additional, well-received studio albums can do wonders for a performer's attendance figures, it seems.

Josh Ritter, who rolled through town last night with a stop at the Granada Theater in Dallas, hasn't headlined his own show in the Metroplex since a March 2004 visit to the then-bustling Gypsy Tea Room. At that point, he was promoting the release of his Hello Starling release, and performed in the smaller room to a few dozen people.

In the big room that night, the trendy-at-the-time, glam-rockers of The Darkness played to a packed house.

But last night, Ritter was the unquestioned star. The Granada was comfortably full with hundreds of admirers at a show that bordered on a sell-out--and likely finished that way, once the evening progressed into the night.

On this night, Ritter deftly showcased why, with each new album he has released, it's becoming more pointless and lazy to make comparisons between him and Bob Dylan--or any other folk great, for that matter. Emphasizing tunes from his newest record, So Runs the World Away, Ritter made sure to cherry pick a few favorites from his other studio albums as well.

Ritter's live renditions of "Change of Time," which was unfurled early in the set, and "Girl in the War," which was performed later in the night, were both more majestic and dramatic than they are on the respective albums on which they are included.

To be sure, the same goes for "Folk Bloodbath" from the newest record. Cello and organ drenched the tune with a spacey elegance that would've welcomed an accompanying laser light show quite nicely.

The menacing, opaque "Rattling Locks" might be the most un-Ritter-esque song that he has recorded to date, but once the bushy-haired songsmith shed his guitar to step behind the synth knobs, it was clear that he is an artist still growing, still searching for new paths to trek down.

Thanks in part to an additional percussionist, who added a great deal of authority and urgency to the entire evening (especially in the cases of the aforementioned tunes), Ritter's band of merry men more closely resembled the chamber-rock of Arcade Fire than they did a folk-act taking the stage at a pre-1965 Newport Folk Festival.

After a handful of songs, Ritter finally brandished his acoustic guitar for "Long Shadows", to significant cheers.

Let's be clear: Even with the added sonic complexity, Ritter is still a very powerful and enlightening folk troubadour. His solo-acoustic rendering of "Me & Jiggs," in which his low, slightly nasal monotone was effectively smooth, and an acoustic cover of Bruce Springsteen's "The River" proved as much.

For those who needed further proof, however, Ritter used his solo, acoustic time to have all the lights--except one pesky bulb along the wall in the back--dimmed so he could work a bare bones and exhilarating version of "In the Dark" along with the enamored audience, opting to sing sans microphone for much of the song, as the throng shouted in unison with him.

While that light-killing move might have come off as rehearsed and cheesy from some artists, Ritter pulled it off in a casual and seemingly spontaneous manner, designed to simply capture the precious connection between artist and admirer.

Throughout the two-hour performance, the joyous, anti-navel-gazing Ritter provided a smile that was boyishly warm. Yet he also put forth a voice that seemed to be a tad weary. At times, a dusty-dry rasp was evident, but never as a detriment to his celebratory performance. In fact, as if his tales needed even more character, Ritter's vocal performance gave them just that.

The Idaho native, who is as big as Dylan in Ireland (of all places), hasn't ever been confused with Andrea Bocelli for sheer vocal prowess, and judging by the collective, loving embrace that was sent his way from the audience, they weren't really there to hear him sing as much as they were on hand to simply be near him.

Leaving North Texas with a truck-load of sing-along love, it's probably safe to assume that Ritter will not be waiting another six years to headline a show in Dallas again.

Critic's Notebook
By The Way:
The evening's opening band, The Mynabirds, was solid enough. After catching their last few numbers, it was clear to see why the group is generating a considerable amount of good, word-of-mouth. Their brand of garage-soul was appealing enough, if not terribly memorable. As is the case with many opening bands, their gig was swallowed whole by the artist they were setting the stage for.

Personal Note: For all of the complaining that many fans and critics (including me) do when it comes to how many Dallas concert attendees like to talk incessantly during shows, the crowd last night was tremendous as far as I could tell. The quieter songs were given an immense amount of silenced respect, and it was quite refreshing.

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