An Acoustic Evening With Josh Ritter @ Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow

Although the Old Fruitmarket, in the heart of Glasgow’s Merchant City, isn’t quite the 5,000 years old Josh Ritter suggested it is, there are still over 120 years of history contained in the venue, which was still a functioning market until the 1970’s.  There is a fantastic atmosphere in the building, which still retains its market hall character with the names of traders adourning the surrounding balcony and the floor having the feel of paved streets beneath ones feet.

It was the perfect backdrop for this acoustic evening where Josh and his band gave his back catalogue a subtle string reworking.  The stage was laden with guitars and double bass and the different musical arrangement allowed him to explore areas of his past you might not expect to hear at a regular concert, such as the double from last year’s Bringing In The Darlings EP, which prompted Josh to ask the audience if there is a Scottish equivalent of the word darling.  Doll, I believe, was the uncompromising response.

This was a delicate and sophisticated performance – almost verging more on theatre from a seat in the front row where every pluck of a guitar string and pronunciation of a word was evident.  The current album The Beast In Its Tracks was of course highlighted, and the sorrow of the break-up album was given greater depth here with Hopeful stripped bare, A Certain Light basking in charm and Josh clearing the stage to perform Joy To You Baby without a microphone.

Amongst other highlights was the performance of The Curse in darkness, a haunting Girl in the War and the uplifting climax to the main set with Lilian, Egypt and the always beautiful Kathleen.  In a perfect world this would have been the ideal way to send the audience home.  It was an epic combination to conclude the set, one which it felt the night was building towards.  This is often the problem with the encore, and the return to the stage for a Willie Nelson cover and Waiting For Love just didn’t carry the same significance.

An intimate venue with a history dating back to the mid-1800’s provided the ideal setting for the most delicate of acoustic evenings.  Josh Ritter is a performer who smiles almost constantly through his show, and by the end of Tuesday night that smile had spread across a few hundred faces by the end of a truly enjoyable gig.

Josh Ritter and The Royal City Band @ Village Underground, London

“I’d like to dedicate the final verse of this song to how hot it’s going to get in here,” smiled Josh towards the end of his third song, Good Man.  It wasn’t a wildly bold prediction, given that this was a compact underground venue in London in the midst of the country’s most prolonged heatwave since 2006, but it was accurate nonetheless.

Having opened with a solo version of Bruce Springsteen’s The River, the following hundred minutes would draw from all angles of his seven record career, all performed with an impossibly infectious smile which defies Josh’s divorce and near-death experience of the last few years.

There’s an electric energy and enthusiasm to the set.  Even songs from current album The Beast In Its Tracks covering Josh’s divorce, such as Hopeful, are cheerful and uplifting, while Joy To You Baby wishes “joy to the many.”

Despite the complexity of some of Josh’s lyrics they have a poetic resonance and the foot-stomping Lillian, Egypt provides a lusty sing-along, while Wolves sees him lead the audience in a chorus of wolf howls.  It was a surreal moment, but it gave birth to an epic climax to the song.

There were softer moments in the set, where Josh’s smile gave way to a more dramatic serious demeanour.  The lights in the cave-like venue were dimmed for the museum love affair in The Curse, while The Temptation of Adam and Folk Bloodbath exhibit the full extent of Ritter’s artistic prowess.

The pace of the set quickened again as the lights returned and the heat rose in a “misty, sexy smell”.  Kathleen, one senses, was the song everyone was waiting to sing, and its words can’t fail to tug on your emotions, even with Josh teasing the final verse with a tangent about buying a red van to go and look for his baby.

To The Dogs or Whoever was a fitting instrument drenched finale, with three men violently thrashing the drum set, piano keys pounded wildly and Josh rhyming off lines like he was Jay Z, slowing down only to demonstrate his beating heart at the “did I mention how I love you in your underwear” line.

Ordinarily the idea of being crammed into such a small cave-like venue with a mass of hot, sweaty arms and legs would seem like a nightmare. But at Village Underground with Josh Ritter and his band it was a joyful experience.