One might say Josh Ritter is entering his Leonard Cohen era.
The slight sandpaper rasp on his voice gives his singing a distinguished, worldly air; the focus of his songs, increasingly, looks at life and death and existential themes. While the term “elder” doesn’t quite seem to fit him just yet — the boyish verve and excitement that won Ritter a following over the years was on full display in his NON-COMM set, grins and “hell yeah”s and all — “statesman” is definitely beginning to, and Ritter’s performance closed night one by drawing on six of the 11 albums he’s released over the past two decades.
The new Spectral Lines was the framing device, and we heard its dreamy and pensive folk represented in the melodic opener “Strong Swimmer,” the ponderous plea for justice on “Someday,” and the bouncy “For Your Soul,” Ritter’s latest single in rotation at WXPN, and among his catchiest songs.
In between, we were treated to a tour of his catalog via songs both prominent — a lovely “Kathleen” from Hello Starling — and tucked-away — a solo acoustic performance of “Truth Is A Dimension (Both Invisible and Blinding)” from a late-pandemic Bandcamp EP was both upbeat and a contemplative curveball. “Monster Ballads” and “Wolves” both repped Animal Years, and a joyous “Getting Ready To Get Down” brought down the house.
Ritter several times referred to his “amazing band,” and watching them play — then realizing who they all are — removed any trace of irony. The Mountain Goats’ Matt Douglas set the mood with his sublime saxophone leads and gruff guitar; Jocie Adams of The Low Anthem joined in on clarinet and vocals; rounding out the Royal City Band was Zachariah Hickman on bass, Ray Rizzo on drums, and Sam Kassirer on keys, and they brought the nuance of Ritter’s studio work — all eras of it — to life onstage.
Check out a photo gallery and full setlist from Josh Ritter’s NON-COMM set below. His tour brings him and the Royal City Band to the Keswick Theatre on Thursday, May 18th.