Photos by JILL TOYOSHIBA/The Star
Josh Ritter always looks like the happiest person in the room, even when the heat is oppressive, even when he’s singing a few verses of the Beatles’ “Happiness Is a Warm Gun.”
An exceptional songwriter with an everyday voice, he has cultivated a modest but loyal following of fans who seem to admire him for his disposition as much as they do for his songs, which take a variety of means to tell stories and express the intimacies of life and love.
Thursday night, he and his sturdy Royal City Band headlined a show at Crossroads KC. Roughly 500-plus people showed up and for two hours listened and watched him sing, tell a story or two and smile, a lot.
He seems to have studied at least casually many of the masters, such as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Jackson Browne; he also evokes the style of a few others, like Steve Forbert and, at times, Jesse Malin. At his best, he delivers all the crucial goods: well-arranged melodies, sturdy rhythms and heart-on-the-sleeve lyrics.
He opened with two from “The Animal Years” album. First, the warm, melancholic “Monster Ballads,” then the jangly “Good Man,” a love song with a typical lyric: “Babe, we both had dry spells / Hard times in bad lands / I’m a good man for ya / I’m a good man.”
Ritter is a folkie, but he can lay down a jaunty rock groove, too, as in “Rumors” and “Right Moves,” which he mashed into a bit of Dire Straits’ “Walk of Life,” and some dark blues, as in “Rattling Locks.”
He can also do the coffeehouse folk bit, standing alone onstage and holding an audience rapt with just vocal and guitar, as he did with “You Don’t Make It Easy, Babe”: “Oh the heart has no bones, you say, so it won’t break / But the purpose of loving is the pounding it takes.” After that: “The Temptation of Adam,” a true ballad about love during the apocalypse.
Despite its proximity to Kansas City, he did not sing “Lawrence, KS.” He did, however, deliver a few of his other stellar tunes: the one-two punch of “Snow Is Gone” and “Lantern,” then “Kathleen,” a honey-sweet love song. The singer knows the score, but he’s so infatuated he’s taking a shot anyway. All he wants is a moment of intimacy: “I know you are waiting, and I know it’s not for me / But I’m here and I’m ready and I’ve saved you the passenger seat ... I’ll be the one to drive you home Kathleen.”
There’s a sadness in the singer’s desperation for a few minutes of attention, but through much of it the guy who wrote it was smiling. Some times you have to laugh through the pounding the heart takes.
Monster Ballads; Good Man; Rumors; The Bad Actress; Rattling Locks; Right Moves; New Lover; Naked as a Window; Girl in the War; Lillian, Egypt; The Curse; You Don’t Make It Easy Babe; The Temptation of Adam; Snow Is Gone; Lantern; Wolves; Another New World; Harrisburg; Happiness Is a Warm Gun; Kathleen; Change of Time. Encore: Change of Time; Galahad; To the Dogs or Whoever.
| Timothy Finn, The Star