Josh Ritter & the Royal City Band headlined the concert at The Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles, California on Tuesday, January 19, 2016, touring behind recent album, Sermon on the Rocks. The opening band was Elephant Revival. Both bands performed soul-lifting music that could elevate the spirits of even the most discouraged individual. The mood of the crowd was excited and buzzing with anticipation from the start.
I was completely won over by Elephant Revival, a group of talented musicians that blends folk-style lyrics with luscious, enchanting melodies over groovy, rhythmic beats. There is a lovely interplay of the voices of the two main singers, Bonnie Paine and Daniel Rodriguez (also playing guitar); the former reminded me of Cranberries singer Dolores O’Riordan, circa “Linger,” and the latter like a softer sounding version of Josh Ritter himself. Besides providing much of the rhythm for the band on the djembe or washboard, Bonnie also plays the musical saw, which marks the first time I have ever seen this done live! The other band members include: Bridget Law, who played the fiddle fittingly and expertly; Charlie Rose, switched astutely between banjo and mandolin; and Dango Rose kept the underlying bass line moving throughout the set (though he switched to a drum for one song).
The first two songs Elephant Revival played, “Birds and Stars” and “Remembering a Beginning,” are also the openers on their latest album, These Changing Skies. The next song was a new one called, “Home in Your Heart,” some of the lyrics included, “Falling down, spin me ’round, no one said this would be easy now, but you got to keep moving somehow” and “go down to the soul of the river, go where love found you there.” Following that was “Stolen,” which can be found on the Sands of Now album and then “Raven Song” from the It’s Alive EP.
Bonnie then announced the next tune was a new song, “Season Song.” It includes the lyrics “I opened a book…found a four-leaf clover…October” and “I watched as the leaves were turning…November,” and “Another day another dawn, another year another song.” This was a pretty song, which will be on their next record, Petals, now available to pre-order, and with a release date of April 1. The band also mentioned that they would be playing their next concert in Los Angeles at The Troubadour on Thursday, March 24.
They played an instrumental next, which they didn’t name check, so I am not sure of the title, but it showcased the richness and beauty of the band’s sound, even absent of accompanying words. There are one or two instrumentals included on each of their albums. They closed their set with the same two songs that close These Changing Skies, “Grace of a Women” and the rhythmic “Rogue River.” The band positioned themselves in the lobby during the intermission and happily signed albums and chatted warmly with fans both old and new.
I joined Josh Ritter’s fan base only in the last year, when a few of my friends separately mentioned that I would probably like him. I bought a couple of his earlier albums and a few months later bought another two. I have mentioned to people unfamiliar with him that he is a bit like Bob Dylan in songwriting style and even singing (not a terribly original observation, but it was my first impression), except that the tone of his voice is more pleasing to me. Having now seen Josh live I can also add that he seems to be just about the happiest musician I have ever seen grace a stage. There was a smile plastered on his face for much of the night and he was certainly appreciative of the ovation from the crowd.
The band played most of the songs from the new album Sermon on the Rocks, but also favorites from other albums. This suited me fine as I have been listening to this latest album frequently for the past month. My 9-year-old son has become particularly enamored of the songs “Where the Night Goes” (borrowed a line from this song for the post title) and “Cumberland” and has been requesting them regularly on the morning car ride to his school. A few times Josh played alone on stage (such as on the brand new song “Myrna Loy”) or with minimal band support and easily commanded the large stage on his own. The set contained a wonderful mixture of songs, both celebratory and solemn, though I do wish that he would have played at least one song from The Golden Age of Radio , which I have also been listening to a lot lately.
The set list for the concert was as follows:
“Good Man” from Animal Years
- “Birds of the Meadow” from Sermon on the Rocks
- “Young Moses“from Sermon on the Rocks
- “A Big Enough Sky” from Sermon on the Rocks
- “Right Moves” from The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter
- “Henrietta, IN” from Sermon on the Rocks
- “A Certain Light” from The Beast In Its Tracks
- “Seeing Me ‘Round” from Sermon on the Rocks
- “Where the Night Goes” from Sermon on the Rocks
- “Cumberland” from Sermon on the Rocks
- “The Stone” from Sermon on the Rocks
- “Myrna Loy” is a brand new song, see link for video from the night
- “Engine, Engine #9” is a cover of a Roger Miller song
- “Snow Is Gone” from Hello Starling
- “Bonfire” from The Beast In Its Tracks
- “Girl In the War” from Animal Years
- “Rumors” from The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter
- “Getting Ready to Get Down” from Sermon on the Rocks
- “Homecoming” from Sermon on the Rocks
- “The Temptation of Adam” from The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter
- “Kathleen” from Hello Starling
- “To the Dogs or Whoever” from The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter
I’ve also put together a YouTube playlist, Josh Ritter Jan 19 2016, with all the songs from this set. A quick shout out for bass player Zack Hichman who plays with style and relish. The keyboardist, guitar player, and drummer all provided solid support, I’m afraid I missed their names. Josh Ritter & the Royal City Band continue touring on the east coast of the U.S. and in some southern states in the coming months. What a fantastic evening of music!