Show Review + Photos: Josh Ritter w/ The Felice Brothers – 5/14 @ Variety Playhouse

Josh RitterThe last time I saw Josh Ritter in Atlanta was at The Variety Playhouse about 3 years ago. I went with a friend, we got there late, wound up sitting in the back, and I lost a camera battery out of it all. The show was nice, but the rest of the experience just took away from enjoying the memory of the concert. I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again. This time, The Felice Brothers and Josh Ritter gave me much better memories to take away.

After writing my preview, I went back to listen to more of The Felice Brothers, and honestly, they didn’t do a whole lot for me. They made me want to go listen to Bob Dylan (a credit to singer Ian Felice’s voice), and other than that connection I really didn’t understand what my friends were going on about. I had at least two people, who have similar music tastes say that they really liked them. I was told to start with “Frankie’s Gun,” which is their most popular song and has been featured in tv shows and a movie. Then I moved on to their new album. And then I swapped over to Josh Ritter. I tried, I really did, but I felt like I was missing something because I just couldn’t get into it. But once we made it into The Variety and they were playing I heard it. And I got it. There’s something about southern/country rock that will always hit home for me. This felt a little rowdier than home, but I was okay with that. I thought they won me over with the accordion and fiddle…but it was probably the washboard that did it in the end.  I doubt that there will ever be anyone who can top the accordion playing of James Felice, not only because he is that good, but he’s so energetic while doing so. The only person who probably had more energy than either him or the crowd was fiddle and washboard player Greg Farley. I remember listening to “Honda Civic” from their newest album Celebration, Florida and not really feeling it. Hearing it live, the whole vibe changed for the better.  It felt like there was a lot more energy from the band and I’m definitely going to give them another shot. Even if it means that I have to find live youtube videos.

First off, full disclosure: I love Josh Ritter. One of the things that I like most about seeing Josh Ritter live is that he is an entertainer. More than just entertaining the fans though, he entertains the other band members and appears to have fun himself. It seems like it is his mission to make everyone smile. Or maybe it’s not, but that’s what happens anyway. He always has a genuine smile and there were a few times that he seemed genuinely surprised at the great reception certain songs received.

To begin Ritter came out on stage alone with his guitar and played one song. He is still the only artist I’ve seen that, when playing certain songs, he can silence the room to the point where people won’t even whisper to each other.  Next, during “Southern Pacific”, each member of The Royal City Band came out one by one as the song built up, and by the apex of the song they were all playing. This was followed by a mix of songs (“Hopeful,” “Rumors,” “The Curse,” “Joy to You Baby,” “New Lover,” “Temptation of Adam,”…), with a majority from his newest album The Beast in Its Tracks. When he began a solo “In the Dark,” he requested that all the lights on the stage be turned off. They were, and it was weird to be in a room with a couple hundred other people but not really able to see them until my eyes adjusted. Or actually be able to see the person performing. He had stepped, away from the microphone, to the edge of the stage to sing. The audience joined in on the chorus at his request, and though he probably does something similar at most shows, it was still something special to be a part of. On “Nightmares,” he asked for the lights to give a primordial feel, one “where dinosaurs might appear.” During the introduction to “In Your Arms” he made a point of talking about his new album. How most of the songs he wrote to begin with were really bad, will never see the light of day and even if aliens came down and needed to know what music was, he wouldn’t play them those songs. He talked about importance of trust and what marriage means. During “Wolves,” he howled along. In the middle of the last song, “Kathleen,” he added a narrative about Glen, who travelled the opposite direction of Lewis and Clark (because they were going the wrong way), as if he were writing a letter to his beloved. There were a few other jokes stuck in, and that closed out the show. For a quick minute, until he came back out to do a solo version of “Lights” from Beast. Josh Ritter and The Royal City Band finished out the night with one of my favorites “To the Dogs or Whoever,” where they left it all on the table.