Josh Ritter & the Royal City Band; November 13, 2010; Majestic Theater
I’ve been seeing Josh Ritter for years, and I’ve never been disappointed with one of his records or with a show. Both things happened this year. So Runs the World Away is a good record, the musicianship solid, the songs smart, but there’s no emotion. Ritter is an artist who seems to have a very personal relationship with every song, but the songs on World seem disconnected. Even the record’s standout track, “Folk Bloodbath,” which pulls characters like Delia and Stagger Lee from traditional folk songs, is just a story. Even so, I was looking forward to his first Madison visit in several years. His last time through, on the “Small Town” tour, had been mind-blowing with Ritter having the time of his life, and his classic “Kathleen” had actually brought tears to my eyes. It isn’t a sad song, not at all; it is just that damn good.
So what happened tonight? Admittedly, it’s likely that most of what kept me from enjoying the show was not his fault. Instead of the High Noon’s cozy confines where I know all the best places to stand, the show this time was at the Majestic Theater, a much larger venue that I still haven’t completely figured out. Also, it was really crowded, sold out or near it. Coming from the early show at the High Noon, I was running late and ended up back by the sound board. They always say that is the spot with the best sound. That may be true, but I’m no audiophile, and I’d rather be closer to the stage otherwise I just don’t feel like I am there. There is also the possibility that I may have been a little drunk after an early show and no dinner. Sometimes that makes a show even better, while other times I just find myself annoyed.
Given those factors, tonight’s show just didn’t live up to its predecessors, and I felt that, just like the record, Ritter was phoning it in. Back by the sound board, I didn’t feel the same joy of playing radiating from the stage as I had at the High Noon. He did play “Kathleen,” while it made me happy, I wasn’t moved to tears. I’m certainly not giving up on Ritter, but next time I’ll get there earlier. And for the next record, maybe he could try harder.