There was Josh Ritter up on stage last Friday, May 21, 2010, at the Orpheum Theater in Boston. Hair of medium length, pogo-stick legs tight of trouser and pumping away, long fingers pluck-popping the strings in an urgent caress. Suit of grey. Smile of summer. Circled by lanterns aflicker, swathed in state pride. Twisting on tiptoe. Sometimes the pleading suppliant of the microphone, sometimes its enraged master.
There was me: ORCH, PP, 8, $27.50. Marooned between the aisles and crammed in a velvet clamshell seat that deeply resented the intrusion. I resented it back, so we were even. Have you ever felt odd sitting quietly in your seat at a show? I’ve heard of the raucous shows in Ireland, which has somehow become my concert-going fantasyland. In Ireland I imagine the audience rarely sits down and therefore gets to express more freely what the music makes them feel.
In my limited experience in America, we take too long to get warmed up. I suppose it’s polite to stay seated for those around you who may not be inclined. I suppose it says We’re focused and we’re listening, which confers respect on the artist. In Ireland, I believe I’ve heard Josh say, that rowdy audience can turn on you. It’s not a passive bystander, and as such, it makes its demands and voices real-time critique. This all begs the question of what it is to be an audience, and that’s something, given some recent events in my life, that I’ve been pondering.
Boston came round eventually:
There’s a brand new album, and those startling new songs made up 40.9% of the setlist. On “Rattling Locks” Josh pressed long screeching chords into the keyboards and grinned like a maniacal congressman perched over a podium draped with the Idaho state flag. Zack Hickman showed off his lovely voice with a dramatic departure in the middle of “Harrisburg.”
I heard the sneer of Bob Dylan (standing himself on the shoulders of others) in “Folk Bloodbath”
And I’m looking over rooftops
and I’m hoping that it ain’t true
that the same God looks out for them
looks out for me and you
and the bouyancy of Paul Simon in “Lark.” We got one of Bruce Springsteen’s most poignant portraits when Josh did his familiar cover of “The River.” Sam Kassirer’s mother recited Edgar Allen Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee” while her son carried us to the famed kingdom by the sea on the current of the instrumental “The Edge of the World.” I listened to the lines, thinking of past literary adventures prompted by this blog and the hope for new ones.
Well there’s a freebie, I thought.
Josh spoke of sensing an existential crisis, joking about his (bottomless) curiousity driving him toward the dictionary for a defintion. But one can’t simply look up existential, he said, drawing laughs. In the dark period that finally gave way to this new album, he said, he frequently watched nature shows to lift his spirits. “You’re luckier than the antelope, at least,” he explained.
. . . That antelope caught in the jaw of the wolf—of the lion?
Lucky to be alive, I wondered?
Let’s listen and see.