When Josh Ritter unplugs, he really unplugs. No microphone, no amp, no lights. During a solo run of songs with just his guitar in the unlit house of the Brown Theatre, he played "In the Dark" and the audience naturally added their own hushed chorus in accompaniment. It was that kind of night, when most of the audience knows not only the choruses, but the verses to well-loved songs, and even though So Runs the World Away
just came out a few days ago, it's pretty obvious that the new lyrics are not far from loving memorization as well.
Ritter, smiling and buoyant throughout an energetic show, wooed his listeners with stories and words wrapped in beautiful arrangements. His Royal City Band was sharp with pianist Sam Kassirer particularly standing out on the dark and lushly romantic mummy song, "The Curse" (he also produced the new album); the villainously mustachioed Zack Hickman played bass and delivered a stellar rendition of "Wicked Game;" Austin Nevins added guitar and lap steel; and Liam Hurley kept them all on course with drums and marvelously inventive percussive elements.
Ritter had no trouble moving folks to their feet for crowd-pleasing renditions of "Good Man," "Kathleen," and "Snow is Gone" but could just as easily switch to mesmerizing them in their seats with the epic storytelling of "Another New World," a frosty, lonely tale of polar exploration that is three parts Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and one part Robert Scott
. And I would really be remiss if I didn't mention the vocal gymnastics required of crowd favorite, "To the Dogs or Whoever," which challenges even the most inveterate sing-alonger to keep up.
Ritter's covers were well-chosen and well-placed in the evening; the first was John Prine's "Mexican Home" during his solo acoustic mini-set, and "Katerina" by Louisville's own Will Oldham, in the encore. Another local musician who made an appearance with the band was Ray Rizzo, helping out with some percussion on "Rattling Locks" and reading Poe's poem "Annabel Lee" as an intro to another song.
It was a splendid show, with Josh Ritter showcasing his perfect ease engaging with the audience, ripping through a dazzling and versatile set, and giving Louisville a memorable night of first-rate music.