Josh Ritter doesn’t sell records by the truckload, but the singer/songwriter from Moscow, Idaho, has nurtured a large cult of fans who worship his music.
Saturday night, more than 600 of them attended his show at the Madrid Theater, and for about 100 minutes, they showered Ritter and his four-piece Royal City Band with gales of cheers and applause.
Ritter performs with unfettered ebullience, often looking and acting like the happiest man in the room. During several songs, he hopped and squirmed, as if his body could not contain the joy within. And he smiled broadly throughout the show.
His music itself isn’t particularly adventurous; melodies and chord progressions are typically warm and pleasant, but they can be predictable or sound familiar. At his best, his lyrics are clever and incisive, filled with vivid images, candid observations and colorful literary devices.
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The set list drew heavily from “Sermon on the Rocks,” his eighth full-length, which he released in October. The music taps into a variety of genres, like the bluesy electric folk of “Birds of the Meadow” and “Young Moses,” the rollicking country-ish “Where the Night Goes” and the hyper-jaunty foot-stomping “Cumberland,” which started some widespread dancing and bouncing on the floor and in the balcony.
Towards the middle of the set, he delivered a few songs solo-acoustic, showing off his busker skills, including “Best for the Best.”
The crowd seemed to be familiar with all of it. There was plenty of singing-along, to songs like “Snow is Gone,” “Getting Ready to Get Down” and the soulful “Homecoming.” (The set list did not include “Lawrence, Kansas,” though it was requested a few times.)
His band added harmonies occasionally and embroidered his songs with leads and fills now and then, especially on guitar and keys, but for the most part, their contributions were steady but understated.
They closed with two songs that elicited another ecstatic charge out of a crowd whose enthusiasm did not wane: “Change of Time” from the “So Runs the World Away” album, now six years old, and “Lillian, Egypt,” from his breakthrough “The Animal Years,” now 10 years old. On that one, Ritter and his band were joined by the Steel Wheels, who opened the show. It brought to a rousing close an evening of praise and adoration for a guy who has nurtured a small but mighty and zealous congregation of fans.
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.