Ritter's show is as remarkable for the presentation as it is for the actual music itself. He is quite animated and engages his audience, and he was in a particularly good mood this night. Just as important is the fact that his sound man never lets the music overpower the vocals. When your lyrics are as well-crafted as Ritter's it would be a shame to allow them to be drowned out by a thumping bass.
This was a warm-up show for the tour supporting the forthcoming album The Beast In Its Tracks (out March 5th). As such, they were plenty of new songs that got a good airing. The album was born out of a relationship turned sour, but defying cliches once again, there's not a hint of bitterness or self-pity. Instead Ritter conveys an appreciation for what he had and genuinely wishes well for all.
Of course, Ritter's impressive back catalogue got more than a fair showing during a set that approached the two-hour mark. Rockers like "Right Moves", "Rumors", and the set-ending "To the Dogs Or Whoever" were obvious crowd pleasers.
Ritter has the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand when he turned the volume down. "The Temptation of Adam", "The Curse", "Folk Bloodbath", "Change of Time", and "Long Shadows" were gobbled up word-by-word by the attentive sold-out room.
Reaching further back the touching and hopeful "Good Man" was a highlight. A gut-wrenching rendition of "Kathleen" hit the mark with the crowd.
If the Molson Studio was the perfect venue, then Ariana Gillis was the perfect opening act. The 22-year old Vineland native played a short set of quirky John Prine-esque story songs that did exactly what an opening act should do: they grabbed the audience's attention and focused it firmly on the stage. Beyond that, she was engaging and fun. She is a must-see when she comes through your town.
It seems that time and heartache have made Josh Ritter a better performer than ever.
Josh Ritter plays the Danforth Music Hall in Toronto on April 16th.