I've been forced to amend my Top 5. Now nestled firmly in at No. 3still in the lead are Van Morrison at Sheperds Bush Empire in London and Israel Kamakawiwo'ole at the Waikiki Bandshell in Kapiolani Parkis last Saturday's Josh Ritter double-header with his solo, packed-to-the-gills acoustic set at The RX followed up by an oversold, Ritter and Co. blowout at The Egyptian.
A giddy Ritter took the stage at The RX in front of an audience whose age range spanned from only several years to almost a half-dozen decades, and after a set that included an almost-stop near the end of "Wolves" to tune his guitar (that's why it's better to sing with coyotes, explained Ritter), a full stop right smack in the middle of "Good Man" to discuss his hand-held navigational device and forgetting the words to "Stuck to You," he hugged each and every person who hung around for an autograph. My calculations put the number of embraces at several hundred.
Despite a year of performances that started with an appearance on Letterman and a summer show that put Ritter onstage at Carnegie performing for The Boss, Ritter played The Egyptian like it was the show of his life, exuding a palpable sincerity when he alluded to the realization of a lifelong dream. For its part, the audience thankfully allowed Ritter alone to sing the quiet ones (including "Here at the Right Time," a dimly-lit "Idaho," and Springsteen's "The River"), choosing only to out sing him during "Kathleen" and to interrupt the first take of his solo, no mic or guitar, bottled-water-in-hand farewell serenade by delivering an off-key version of "Happy Birthday." Not to be overlooked, Ritter's bandin a wordrocked. Keyboardist Sam Kassirer sang along, often off mic, like he just couldn't help it. Newcomer to the band, drummer Austin Nevins, let out not one, but two guttural, nerve-freeing screams returned in kind by the audience. Bassist Zack Hickman is perhaps the snappiest dresser in folk music currently, handlebars and all. And aside from all my fanatical blithering, rumor has it that Irish Times writer Jim Carroll, who is traveling with Ritter for a stint, said the show was the best of Ritter he'd ever seen on stageand he's seen Ritter many, many times.
Post-show, Ritter, who has to be the most attentive celeb-on-the-cusp music has seen in a long, long time, lingered in the lobby, signing autographs and doling out another round of hugs. His music will make him famous, no doubt, but his authenticity is the stuff of stardomor more appropriately, the Northern Lights.