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Sunday, 21 April 2013 13:00

Concert review: Josh Ritter (with Lera Lynn) redefines the American troubadour at Plush on Saturday, April 20

Concert review: Josh Ritter (with Lera Lynn) redefines the American troubadour at Plush on Saturday, April 20
Written by Will Kyle

Josh Ritter is simultaneously a music writer's sweetest dream and worst nightmare. His highly narrative and hook-laden songs capture audiences with their stories of angels, devils, gods, nightmares, dreams, historical figures, animals and lost loves.

More than this, Ritter's banter between songs, usually buoyed by instrumentation from his backing band, the Royal City Band, is always crystalline, sincere, full of metaphor, funny and brilliant at once. So much so that Ritter's affect becomes dizzying and sublime. Any writer with their head not in the clouds (or perhaps firmly rooted in some darker, self-indulgent and more stinky place) will admit to being overwhelmed by such a force as Ritter.

Lera Lynn opened the night at Plush with a set of wispy, alt-country folk-tunes that would have made Nashville proud if the city were embodied in human form. Lynn stood alone on stage before the packed Plush with a red guitar, wearing a fedora with a feather nestled in its band atop her head.

Sadly, the crowd noise at Plush -- the chattering, caterwauling and cackling -- nearly drowning out the singer's dulcet and breathy vocals. I had to position myself front and center and push my ears forward with my fingertips to hear even the slightest shreds of Lynn's set.

Highlights included "Bobby, Baby," "Whiskey" ("Maybe we should have one," Lynn said) and "Good Hearted Man" -- all from the singer's 2011 debut record "Have You Met Lera Lynn?" While Lynn's set was no match for the room noise, her passion and commitment solidified her as an artist the audience ought to have kept an eye on, rather than guffawing and snapping Instagram pictures of one another like rude interlopers at a hushed soiree.

Soon Ritter and the Royal City Band took the stage to a roar of crowd noise. Ritter performed the first handful of songs with full support his backing band, all wearing suits complete with color-coordinated dress vests, hats and slacks. Bassist Zack Hickman's mustache was wondrously twisted up in devilish curlicues a la Snidely Whiplash. Drummer Liam Hurley pounded away with a contemplative power that complemented Ritter's storytelling on "Southern Pacifica" from 2010's "So Runs Away the World."

Ritter is a true artist -- brilliant, sublime and always exuding life-affirming positive power. He smiled through the first half of his set, strumming his fleur-de-lis-branded guitar with closed eyes and a gigantic smile on his face. His ebullience was infectious, creating the perfect bed for his songs -- full of heady lessons and literary imagery, without the slightest hint of didacticism -- to shine.

"The Curse" catapulted the audience into full swoon. Ritter danced and played, fell to his knees and sang his vocals into cupped hands, creating an echoing resonance to underscore dreamy bridges and post-choruses.

The Royal City Band retired from the stage mid-set to allow Ritter a swath of solo-acoustic time. "Temptation of Adam" from 2007's "The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter" told the story of two lovers holed-up in an underground missile silo, contemplating the end of the world -- WWW "aye-aye-aye" (read "III") -- and carving their names into hearts on the side of the missile.

Zack Hickman returned, playing stand-up bass on "The Apple Blossom Rag" from 2013's "The Beast in Its Tracks" and "Folk Bloodbath" from "So Runs the World Away." "Nightmares," also from "The Beast in Its Tracks," glimmered with Paul Simon-esque whimsy as Ritter sang, "I know where the nightmares sleep. On what fodder do they feed?"

After some wonderful and completely unrecreate-able banter on the subject of marriage, divorce and the genesis of his newest record, the rest of the Royal City Band returned for "In Your Arms Again," "Good Man," "Wolves" (complete with howls), "Right Moves," ending with "Kathleen," which was preceded by some touching talk on Lewis and Clark, Westward expansion, the subject of 420 and a grunt named Gene.

Bathed in blue lights, Ritter and the Royal City Band encored with the contemplative and lovely "Lights" from "The Beast in Its Tracks." Ritter characteristically closed out with crowd favorite, "To the Dogs or Whoever" from "The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter."

Anyone with eyes and ears could tell the song stands out as one of Ritter's favorites to perform, as well. After blowing the roof off Plush one more time, Ritter and the Royal City Band stood in a line and offered the audience waves, smiles, promises of return and a hearty, heartfelt bow.

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