Let’s face it, websites and periodicals repeat themselves. Open up The Atlantic and you’ll find a cover story discussing the unstoppable ascendancy of women in the workforce. Flip through any issue of GQ and you’ll find out that your pants are too baggy, and that for the 13th straight season, double-breasted suits are making a comeback (they’re not). Cosmopolitan will show you 475 TOTALLY NEW sex positions, Slate will tell you why Amazon being the only store in the world is a GOOD thing for you, and Pitchfork will give 8 of the 10 spots in their year end Best Albums list to obscure rappers. This consistency is why we visit the sames sites over and over, why we subscribe to these magazines. We subscribe, tune in, and log on because we are looking for specific content, and expect that content to be delivered without fail.
That’s why at ATTAG, we try to deliver good things, on the reg. Two of those reliably good things over the years have been the Felice Brothers and Josh Ritter, and wouldn’t you know it, they rolled into Atlanta this week to play a show together. The Felice Brothers were the opener, but it was great to see that a good number of Atlantians chugged their last beer at dinner and got to Variety in time to see the Bros rip through an excellent if too short set. James and Ian, the two most mismatched brothers I’ve ever seen, were their usual selves (fat & jolly, emaciated & strung out, respectively) and led the band through a very upbeat set of songs including Whiskey In My Whiskey, Cus’s Catskill Gym, Honda Civic, and Run Chicken Run. Their live version of Frankie’s Gun has gotten a bit too fast paced for my taste, I prefer the dramatic pace of the recorded version, but it’s a killer track either way. Greg Farley did his usual thing being the most Rock n Roll violinist I’ve ever seen, jumping all over the stage while fiddling up a storm. And their bass player, who’s name is Christmas, and who was previously a pro dice player (it’s impossible to write about the Felice Brothers and not mention these last 2 facts) was generally awesome just by showing up and being himself.
The high point of the set for me was the traditional folk song Cumberland Gap. I didn’t recognize it at the time, but it showed up on a Tour Only CD they were selling for $10 after the show. After a little investigation I found out that they put together this collection of folk tunes and original Felice cuts after an incredible string of bad fortune that left the band with busted amps, an acute skin condition and a deceased Winnebago. So if there’s a warm beating heart in your chest go to http://www.godblessyouamigo.com/ and buy this great collection of tunes.
After a short break Josh Ritter and The Royal City Band took to the stage, opening with a gorgeous version of Idaho, then ramping the pace up a bit with Southern Pacifica before jumping right into the new material. The first song he played off The Beast In It’s Tracks was Hopeful, my personal favorite off the new record. The record was written and recorded in the immediate aftermath of his divorce, and in my opinion deals more with the healing process than the anger. With song titles like Hopeful, New Lover, and Joy to You Baby, it’s obviously a record about the rebuilding phase. That being said, the live renditions of these tracks reveal a man still dealing with the pain and anger of the event. The tone of Ritter’s voice turned emphatic, even harsh, as he sang “I’m coming out of the dark clouds, coming out of the dark clouds!”. It’s striking to see an artist whose voice is generally so polished and stage demeanor so celebratory, work through songs from an obviously different emotional place.
On New Lover, he sings about having a new person in his life, and hopes that his ex has found the same:
I hope you’ve got a lover now, hope you’ve got somebody who
Can give you what you need like I couldn’t seem to do.
But he can’t seem to embrace the sentiment wholeheartedly and closes with the vindictive line:
But if you’re sad and you are lonesome and you’ve got nobody true,
I’d be lying if I said that didn’t make me happy too.
He sang this song with such conviction, especially the closing line, it’s obvious that he put a lot of himself and his experiences into the new record, but that the issues he wrote about are still boiling just beneath the surface.
The rest of the set was vintage Ritter, deftly working the toe-tapping classics Lillian Egypt and Wolves in with some slower new stuff. In the middle of the set he played The Temptation of Adam solo-acoustic. That song may be the most brilliant lyrical composition since Lennon/McCartney penned Rocky Raccoon, a total masterpiece. He followed with Snow Is Gone, starting it out solo, then slowly bringing the band back out for a big finish on the final verse and chorus. He closed the night with the crowd favorite Kathleen before encoring with one song off the new record, Lights, and To The Dogs Or Whoever, his most recognizable and rocking tune.
Overall it was a strong show, not the best Ritter show I’ve seen, but considering the challenge of mixing the newer more slow pace songs in with his usual upbeat folk sound, he made it work. I prefer a more upbeat set, one that includes Good Man, Next To The Last Romantic, and especially Harrisburg, but hey, he can’t play ‘em all in one night right?
Note: The end of Ritter’s set did not mean the end of Rock n Roll on this wonderful Tuesday night – New Jersey rockers Titus Andronicus played at The Earl, and our faithful correspondent Nicko made his way over to East Atlanta and caught the show. His thoughts on the anchor leg of a great musical night in Atlanta will follow on ATTAG later this week.
Setlist – Josh Ritter – Variety Playhouse – Atlanta – May 14, 2013
Joy to You Baby
The Temptation of Adam
In The Dark
Snow is Gone
In Your Arms Again
To The Dogs or Whoever