Contributor Dave Rolfes was in attendance last week for Josh Ritter and Scott Hutchison at 20th Century and files this report.
Last week Josh Ritter brought his world tour back to the 20th Century Theatre for the second time in less than six months. A sold out room greeted Josh and his band, as well as Tift Merrritt, in October of 2010 and once again Cincinnati showed up for Mr. Ritter in February 2011. The only real difference heading into the night was the undercard which had changed from Ms. Merritt to Scott Hutchison of the Scottish band Frightened Rabbit.
I was most intrigued by Scott’s opening set, which was billed as solo acoustic. Over the course of three releases his full time band has become known for soaring melodies and anthemic structures so just having Scott on stage by himself was going to be a stark contrast to what Frightened Rabbit fans (and there were a few there) were used to. The one and only reason why this had a chance of working was Scott’s ability to write strong and very personal lyrics on many of the Frightened Rabbit songs.
As the set opened, many of the Ritter fans were not yet paying attention, but gradually more and more did as the talking during and over the songs faded to silence. His first songs were “Modern Leper” from the 2008 release Midnight Organ Fight and “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” from the 2009 release Winter of Mixed Drinks. Immediately it was clear to this fan of Frightened Rabbit that these songs would work if given a chance. Scott used space and quiet where there was usually guitar, drums, and harmony from his bandmates.
After the first two songs, Scott asked for requests from the crowd which got more than a few responses. This was not surprising since he had been taking requests for cover songs over Twitter while out on tour, but more on that in a bit. He played “Square Nine” and while he mentioned he’d forgotten the lyrics a few nights before he made it through just fine on this night. He really seemed to win the room over with “Poke” as a silence fell over the whole Theatre. Those that weren’t paying attention at the start of the show clearly were now. The highlight of the night came next when he mentioned he had been taking cover song requests via Twitter, and he harkened back to their Spring 2010 tour when local favorites Bad Veins opened for his band. He also mentioned their show at Southgate House in May and called it one of the best Frightened Rabbit shows ever, he then launched into Bad Veins’ “Gold & Warm” (which was a request put forth by this reviewer). While he just used it as a lead in to “Backwards Walk” it was a great nod to a hometown band. The set finished out with a three more tunes including the finale “Old Old Fashioned”. All in all a special set which was executed nearly flawlessly with a tip of the cap to Bad Veins; it was going to be hard for Ritter to beat this, at least for this reviewer.
(In full disclosure, this reviewer is a big fan of Josh Ritter, but this was also my third time seeing him in less than a year. And while I do enjoy Josh’s show, there is not too much that changes from set to set. Yes there are a few special moments each set, but for the most part they are largely the same.)
Josh’s set to start focused on songs from two of his albums. The first three songs were taken from the 2006 release The Animal Years, highlighted by the always fun “Lilllian, Egypt” and the next three were all from the 2010 release So Runs the World Away which was highlighted by the song “Rattling Locks” which featured the return of Scott (and his brother, Frightened Rabbit drummer, Grant) keeping rhythm with drumsticks in the background.
The set moved on with some new songs and some old favorites as well as a few covers including the Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes”. This choice was one I had not heard, and Josh picked another cover to help close out the night which was a duet with Scott on The Everly Brothers “Stories We Can Tell” which seemed to reinforce the bond of friendship the two were forming out on the road. I think the nod towards cover songs was one that was purposeful since Josh and his band had been in town so recently.
The remainder of the set was a mixture of songs from Josh’s catalogue, but a few of the highlights included “Lantern” from last year’s release, as well as “Kathleen” and “You Don’t Make it Easy Babe” from the 2003 album Hello Starling. Mr. Ritter is compiling quite a back catalogue and he is not afraid to use a few songs from each album to appease fans that have been around a while while introducing some of his better work to newer audiences. The night concluded with a rousing version of “To the Dogs or Whoever” from the 2007 album The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter. In the grand scheme of things with two sold out shows in less than six months at the 20th Century Theatre, I think Mr. Ritter could put Cincinnati on that list of conquests. Even if the show was a little repetitive for this veteran, when someone said after the show, “Josh Ritter is the one act that when I get home after seeing him I immediately start to look to see when he will be back in the area” it was clear that he had the room in the palm of his hand all night long.
- Dave Rolfes @cinnewton