Live Music, The Art of Performance And The Writing Of Songs

I just saw Josh Ritter play at the Danforth Music Centre in Toronto. I’ve never experienced an artist–of any kind–who seems to be enjoying themselves as much as he is when he plays. It is clear that he’s having a blast, that he loves what he’s doing. It doesn’t hurt that he’s an immensely talented songwriter and lyricist–nay, a poet! So evidently appreciative of his audience, he has these small, subtle ways to make everything less formal and constrained. These touches draw the audience in to an intimate, heart-melting performance delivered eyes closed, with a smile. That smile. He smiled through just about every word of every song. Sometimes his passion comes so close to overflowing that he does these little enthusiastic, restrained hops or brings his hands up near his face and curls them into a supplicating pose. Sometimes he’ll face away from the crowd, or sing a verse away from the microphone (or a whole song) or even step back and use the head of his guitar to very, very gently tap the drum kit’s cymbal. He had us at his mercy, but he was right there with us. Amazing.

Sometimes I scold myself for not listening to the words of songs, but I can’t help but hear Ritter’s narratives and parables wrapped in his humble vocal melodies that warmly resonate from our eardrum straight to the heartstrings. The man knows how to put words together with sounds. Wow.

He is every inch a performer, but with no arrogant aftertaste or flashy gimmicks. He wants to be there for us, and we want him to be there just as much. He simply radiates joy when he sings. That extra sense or bundle of sense-like-things that we all have picks up on his…aura of radiant bliss. Maybe you have to be there. Maybe you should try to be there, someday. Yeah, you ought to.

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