Live review: Josh Ritter @ Chautauqua AuditoriumBy Craig Randall | July 21st, 2011 | 1 Comment »
I hope everyone, just once, can experience the feeling of a summer night in a giant barn on top of a hill; the moon glowing against impossibly beautiful sandstone shadows.
And, if possible, with Josh Ritter as your soundtrack.
A swooning, sold out Boulder crowd was brought to its knees, feet, and at times, mid-air during Ritter’s Wednesday night Chautauqua Auditorium gig. Flanked by four impeccably complimentary band mates, Ritter played a near perfect two hour set full of gratitude. He’s long been called variations of “the happiest performer in America” and as this was my first live Ritter gig, I can vouch that the moniker is completely fitting.
Alone under a single spotlight, Ritter emerged from a stellar Blind Pilot opening set playing “Idaho,” the first (of many) references to his home state. “We’re going to have an amazing time here tonight,” he said, his smile lines fully engaged. This soft, straightforward opening number quickly transitioned to the rollicking, pogo-inducing “Right Moves,” full of battle-raps to his baby. When the song ended, Ritter introduced his bass player as “the man on the mustache,” using Zach Hickman’s impeccable lip toupée as the centerpiece of several jokes.
The first half of the set was like musical theater and as the drama wore on, highlighted by the “Rattling Locks’” haunted refrain, “Rather than rattling your locks I’d rather spend another night in hell, in hell, in hell,” the band sang like a chorus with a thundering backbeat punctuating the silence. The mood was later lifted as Ritter, who, like the crowd, was clearly high on the venue’s atmosphere, told a rambling story about a “perfect” day, complete with saying good morning to a squirrel named Chuck over his morning coffee.
This story was a post-script to “Harrisburg” and as the protagonist found himself staring at the ceiling on a bed in a Motel 6 watching the end of the world, Ritter and the band seamlessly transitioned into Talking Heads’ “Once In a Lifetime.”
Heading into the arc of the set, Ritter asked the venue to turn the lights down to a “5,000 years ago vibe” and with a faint orange glow cast over him, began playing “The Curse,” the topper to many critics’ 2010 year-end song lists. As the song waned on, several people in the crowd started clapping prematurely. But who could blame them? It seemed like people were just dying to show him gratitude.
Craig Randall is a Boulder-based writer and PR pro with an identity crisis. He credits both “Let Me Love You Down” and “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” as life-changing tracks. Check out his website.
Joe McCabe is a Denver photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb. Check out his website.