May 22, 2010

Josh Ritter at the Orpheum, Boston

There are some shows you hype so much in your head that by the time you actually see the show, it's a letdown. Let's just say this, that never happens for a Josh Ritter show. Because as great as you expect it to be, it's always better -- way better.
Josh and his old faithful, but newly dubbed, Royal City Band came to the Orpheum last night and delivered a show that was not only entertaining but masterful. There is no artist I can think of who seems to have as good a time on stage as he does, and no band that can go from subtlety and quiet to full-on rocking out.
The setlist is below, but the highlights are many.
The band strolled on to "Curtains," the instrumental that opens the new album, "So Runs the World Away." The seamlessly picked up the orchestration of the song on their instruments and then in semi-darkness segued into "Change of Time." "Southern Pacifica" followed before they launched full-blast into "Rumors," which included some tough-ass playing from guitarist Austin Nevins.
They brought things down a notch for wonderful versions of "Folk Bloodbath," "Monster Ballads" and "Good Man." The crowd was great, participating in singalongs as necessary but also singing quietly enough to let Josh's voice be heard.  When Josh hit the chorus, "I'm a good man," well-deserved cheers, hoots and hollers went up all around.
It was here the show hit the next gear. With "Rattling Locks," Josh took to a small keyboard, Sam moved to electric drums, and Darius Zehlka, the bands' manager, came out to pound on drums and cymbals next to drummer Liam. Zack took center stage leading the band in the huge percussive intro while Austin knifed in the heavy guitar lines.
After the mayhem, it was back to quiet, and the magical song "The Curse." It's just amazing how the band goes from muscular to delicate in a matter of a song. Sam's piano filled in the beautiful melody behind Josh's amazing story song about a mummy falling in love with an archeologist.
The Paul Simon-esque "Lark" followed and then another treat: Josh solo doing Springsteen's "The River." And while the crowd was in a hushed faze, Josh had all the lights turned off, moved to the front of the stage and delivered a completely acoustic "In the Dark." The crowd quietly helping out with the ooohs.
The band came back on and charged into "Kathleen" and the audience went nuts, rising to their feet and dancing in the aisles, as if they had finally gotten the invitation they were waiting for to party. And the band kept it right, cranking up "Right Moves" and  brining them back down a notch with "Girl in the War."
And then another special treat. Sam's mom (my stepmom) was invited up on stage to read Edgar Allen Poe's "Annabelle Lee" backed by the band before launching into "Another New World." But there was no time to catch our respective breaths because "Harrisburg" was right on its heals, complete with Zack's wonderous version of "Wicked Game."
The set finally wound to an end with a joyous "Lantern" and incredible, fast version of "To the Dogs,"
which ended with the boys in stop-motion, holding their pose for nearly a minute before completing the final notes to the song.
Phew! A break to realize what we had all witnessed... a band completely in charge and in sync.
Back for the encore, "Hello Starling" led it off to more cheers and hysterics from the crowd. The older songs got the loudest cheers and really got the crowd going. The opening act, the Punch Brothers, were brought on stage to play the silly "Next to the Last True Romantic" (see my video HERE), and finish up the night in a mostly a cappella, finger-snapping  "Wait for Love."
To see my pics, click HERE

the setlist:
Change of Time
Southern Pacifica
Folk Bloodbath
Monster Ballads
Good Man
Rattling Locks
The Curse
The River
In the Dark (literally in the dark)
Right Moves
Girl in the War
Another New World (w/ reading of Poe poem by Sam's mom)
Harrisburg (w/ Zack's Wicked Game)
To the Dogs
Last True Romantic (w/ Punch Brothers)
Wait for Love (w/ Punch Brothers)

May 14, 2010

Paradise gets a makeover -- a plea

Shelby Lynne at the Paradise in 2005.

It was recently reported that the Paradise Rock Club in Boston is on the verge of renovation (story HERE). This scares me to death.

The Paradise has a storied past. Bands like the Police, U2 and REM played there when they were starting out. It is the perfect spot to see Kathleen Edwards, Shelby Lynne and the Low Anthem, who I recently caught there. Its stage can handle punk, bluegrass and everything in between. It is a place to get up close to whichever act graces the stage.

For anyone who has seen shows at the Paradise, you know what you're getting when you step through the door. First, the ticket prices are relatively cheap for the mid-level and up-and-coming acts that play there. Second, it's a small club, capacity is around 700, with few seats. So you know you'll be up close to the bands, sweating to the beat. While it may get crowded, there's usually enough room in the back near the bars to find a little personal space. And finally, beer prices are reasonable.

The club will close around July 4 and reopen after Labor Day in its new configuration.

With a renovation, you never know what you'll get.

From the Herald story: "Plans call for the box office and hallway leading to the club entrance to be knocked down to increase the floor space, and a new box office will be built near the front of the building. The current dressing rooms will be demolished; new ones will include such amenities as showers. Another source said the Paradise Lounge, a separate room in the front of the club, will be reconfigured to enlarge the capacity of the rock club to around 1,000."

What I'm most worried about is demolishing the aura of the place. In its current form the Paradise is not fancy or shiny or bright. It's a rock club, as rock clubs should be: small and dark with a good sound system. That's all rock fans really care about. Showers for the band? We're all for it. But don't ruin the club.

The House of Blues is fine, but we don't need another one. Beer prices there suck; we're paying for ambience.

So please, Paradise owners, think twice before you renovate. Do the right thing and make sure you keep the club's spirit intact.