Eric Bachmann & Josh Ritter: Showbox, Seattle, WA 10/21/07

Some musical pairings, in the form of openers and headliners, simply shouldn’t happen.  Others are matches made for memory.  The latter is the case in the current Eric Bachmann/Josh Ritter tour match-up, with the former Archers of Loaf and current Crooked Fingers frontman opening for Ritter and his band.  With a gravelly, emotive voice speaking of roads already traveled, Eric Bachmann fits cleanly in the role of musical statesman, with wonderfully captivating lyrics, melodic songs, and a comforting and engaging stage presence.  Bachmann is performing on this tour with a young female whose lovely voice perfectly harmonized with his and who switched through a variety of musical instruments, including a nickel harp (a beautiful Scandinavian folk instrument, somewhat of a cross between a hurdy-gurdy and a violin). Alhough their soft, lovely version of Crooked Fingers’ “Islero” missed its trumpet, their set was a perfect warm-up for Ritter. 

Picking up easily where Bachmann left off was Josh Ritter, a true music fan’s musician; full of energy, eager to connect with the audience, and a consummate performer, Ritter puts on a stellar show, playing the requisite “old favorites” while regularly pulling in new fans with new material.  Indeed, while Ritter has always put on a solid show, he is inarguably improving with age.  Having seen Ritter in the past, this show more than any other gave credibility to comparisons Josh increasingly draws to Bruce Springsteen: singing songs of love and war, Ritter takes audiences on an emotive, story-filled rollercoaster ride of a show, and no matter how long the set, always leaves too early. 

The energy in the room at Ritter’s recent appearance at Seattle’s Showbox club was palpable, as Ritter played to a near-capacity crowd.  With a smile that rarely left his face, Ritter made it clear that there was nowhere he’d rather be, repeatedly thanking the audience for coming and noting his great enjoyment of the evening.  Musically, he and his band were tight, at once racing through gregarious, upbeat songs, then taking things down to the most intimate of levels as Ritter stepped in front of the mic, quieting the audience to a whisper, to perform sans amplification.  

The show took place on Josh’s birthday, and his whole family had come from their hometown of Moscow, Idaho, to celebrate with Josh.  Midway through the show, his mother took a cupcake with one candle up on stage; the audience celebrated with an impromptu singing of “Happy Birthday.”  One couldn’t help but feel that one was at an intimate family gathering, with Ritter the cool cousin with whom everyone wants to connect. 

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