It was only during Josh Ritter’s encore at the Town Hall in New York City on Thursday night that he sang, “I’m singing for the love of it/ Have mercy on the man who sings to be adored.” That Ritter wears his earnestness and exuberance on his sleeve are just part of his charm—the rest is entirely musical. But, together, these two characteristics always make him sound like he’s playing his first national headlining tour, showing as much, if not more, excitement than his fans.
But Ritter was playing his second night at the venerable venue, on tour in support of his sixth studio album, So Runs the World Away. At one point he mocked the “existential unease” he had while writing it, and such a self-consciousness has made it his most wordy record yet. Four months ago, opening for The Swell Season at Radio City, it was a criticism. He struggled with, and stumbled through, the new material as well as the immensity of the hall.
Now, however, Ritter was in total command. “Rattling Locks” was delivered with the cathartic clacking it was meant to be and the opening “Change of Time” already felt entrenched in his catalog. The fable “Another New World” became a captivating and vivid tale. He also mastered the smaller room, playing “In the Dark” solo, unplugged, and—you guessed it—in the dark. (His zealousness seemed to take his Americana themes a little overboard: four state flags prominently adorned stands and other equipment while six beach ball-sized Edison bulbs spanned the space behind the band.)
Ritter and his band made their way through most of So Runs, of which “Change of Time” and “Lark” were definitely the two strongest—as they are on the record. Still, songs like “Monster Ballads” and “Good Man” demonstrated why Animal Years contains some of Ritter’s most iconic sounds.
Throughout his two-hour set there was a continuing dialogue between Ritter and the otherwise anxiously quiet crowd. Their random exhortations kept relieving any lingering intensity left from the weight of his songs. The band was having fun too, especially during “Harrisburg” when mustachioed bassist Zack Hickman took over vocally to insert some of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” with a provocative falsetto.
Ritter’s dueling musical personalities—rock and acoustic balladry—were exemplified in his encore by “Snow is Gone” and “Wait for Love”. On the latter his band ditched instruments for gentle a cappella backing.
Opener Annie and the Beekeepers were solid, with Annie Lynch’s vocals leading the way. Her Laura Ingalls Wilder look was completed by the beeswax paraphernalia for sale at their merch table.
Annie and the Beekeepers