I’d heard a few songs from each Ritter and Gibson, but I wasn’t overly familiar with any of the artists’ music going into the show.
The line wasn’t long when I arrived but that’s because it was already pretty full inside. There was a 20s, hipster contingent, but the age range was wider than an average Great American show, both older, dressed up a little, and younger, dressed in t shirts and jeans.
Dave Smallen was on when I got there with just his guitar and voice. After some angry and concrete protest song, I wasn’t looking forward to the rest of the set. After that, though, he mixed it up between serious, often angsty songs with lighter fair–”silly songs” he called them. While the din of the audience chatter threatened to drown out Smallen, I felt he deserved more credit than the audience seemed to be giving him. I didn’t love everything he did but I thought there were some good ones, particularly among his lighter songs.
I don’t want to ruin the suspense, but what was one of the worst audiences I’ve seen for Smallen got even more disrespectful with their chatter during the beautiful set of Laura Gibson, but suddenly became an enthusiastic and great audience for Josh Ritter. I understand how this happens–Ritter fans come for Ritter and don’t really care to see the openers–but I don’t understand why. If you love music, you’d think you’d give other bands a chance to play you music and be quiet for long enough to hear it. Commentary on audience talking aside, let’s move on with the rest of the show.
Laura Gibson came on stage with her band after a short break. She had two musicians with her, each with half of a drum kit. The guy on the left also manned the banjo, castanets and singing saw, while the one on the right played the melodica and accordion. I believe both handled harmony vocal duties.
She played a beautiful set, dominated, at least in my mind, by Laura’s fragile, fluid voice and guitar. Besides the rousing “Spirited” near the end of the set, it was a pretty subdued set of music, carefully put together. I’m excited to see her again in May when she plays the Bottom of the Hill with Damien Jurado–I’m hoping it’ll be a little quieter.
Laura Gibson – Spirited (mp3)
I probably know more bands than the average person, but there are always bands that slip through for whatever reason. Of course I’d heard of Josh Ritter, but before this show, I’d never really listened to him, except for a quick myspace investigation.
With the audience applauding madly, Jose Ritter came on stage with a grin that stretched from ear to ear. Ritter was billed as “solo, with a string quartet”. He stood with his guitar in the center of the stage, draped in while and yellow light for much of the show. To the right was a string quartet that joined him on some songs.
To a Ritter fan, I’d half to guess that this set was amazing, almost magical. For me, it was a bit like being the outsider while a preacher riles up his congregation. Ritter seemed ecstatic to be there. The crowd was really into the songs. After singing along to part of the second song in the set, Ritter thanked the audience for doing so and there was a lot more singing along for the rest of the set.
The first song the string quartet accompanied, they sounded muddy and a bit like a hodgepodge, but where they played for the rest of the set after that, they added nicely to the sound. The set was made up of crowd pleasers and new songs, solo songs and ones with the string quartet.
I’m not sure I’ll be running to buy his CDs, but I did like Ritter’s songs, especially in this setting. They have nice melodies and he has some nice lyrical turns (“Paul said to Peter, you got to rock yourself a little harder” for example).
 There’s a reason that greats like Bob Dylan wrote abstract or narrative protest songs: they work much better than some angry diatribe against specific politics or a specific politician.