Josh Ritter held court over what may have been the most jovial brawl anyone has ever seen Friday night at the House of Blues.
The one-time Somerville native had dubbed the night’s festivities a Valentine’s Day Brawl, but from the second he took the stage to the time the house lights came on more than two hours later a glorious grin was plastered to his face, and a wave of communal joy likewise cascaded over the packed house. The easy-going vibe was to be expected from Ritter, who likely packs the sunniest disposition of any artist on the road today, yet the evening packed plenty of surprises to keep even the singer’s most devout, longtime fans on their toes.
Musically, Ritter got intimate with solo performances of songs like the set-opening “Bright Smile” and the crowd-pleasing “Girl in the War,” and he also got epic by augmenting his rock-solid Royal City Band with a full horn section on rousing selections like “Empty Hearts” and “Right Moves.” If that wasn’t enough, there were a trio of stellar covers: a chunk of the Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” was sandwiched seamlessly into Ritter’s own “Harrisburg;” the band tackled the Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes” following a short mid-show solo set; and Ritter and opener Scott Hutchison teamed up on the Everly Brothers’ “Stories We Could Tell” in the encore.
Ritter was perhaps most in his element while engaging the audience. On two occasions, he slowed things down to read dedications submitted through his website, including a successful marriage proposal. During the show’s quieter moments, he stepped away from the mic and urged the crowd to sing along, and during “Kathleen” the lights went up as the singer transformed the club into a makeshift high school dance floor.
Hutchison was humble and engaging in a 40-minute opening set built around material from his band, Frightened Rabbit. After blanking on the lyrics to his own “Nothing Like You,” Hutchison made it through a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m Goin’ Down” unscathed.
Josh Ritter’s Setlist:
Bright Smile (solo) / Lillian, Egypt / Long Shadows / Southern Pacifica / The Curse / Empty Hearts / Real Long Distance / Rattling Locks / Harrisburg -> Once in a Lifetime (Talking Heads) -> Harrisburg / Folk Bloodbath / You Don’t Make It Easy Babe (solo) / The Temptation of Adam (solo) / Naked as a Window (solo) / Girl in the War (solo) / Pale Blue Eyes (Velvet Underground) / Rumors / Right Moves / Kathleen / Lantern / Change of Time / To the Dogs or Whoever // Galahad (solo) / Stories We Could Tell (Everly Brothers, with Scott Hutchison) / Snow is Gone
Scott Hutchison’s Setlist:
Old Old Fashioned / Swim Until You Can’t See Land / Good Arms vs. Bad Arms / Modern Leper / Nothing Like You / Poke / I’m Goin’ Down (Springsteen) / The Twist / Keep Yourself Warm
Josh Ritter & the Royal City Band:
Josh Ritter & Scott Hutchison:
Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit: