Exclaim!

Josh Ritter / Basia Bulat

Capital Music Hall, Ottawa ON October 25

Josh Ritter / Basia Bulat
Given its multi-tiered stages, Capital Music Hall demands a certain presence from its performers to command the crowd. Josh Ritter met the challenge with gusto and admirable dedication for his gathered faithful.

London, ON-based folkie Basia Bulat started the night with a brief but ebullient set, cooing rustic love songs over guitar, ukulele and autoharp. A Polish song about a lovers' visit to the zoo was a definite highlight, and her enthusiasm was contagious; a yearning take on "If Only You" off Heart of My Own elicited a similar response as Bulat's warble matched the stomping rhythm.

But the crowd was there for Ritter and it showed. Backed by the four-piece Royal City Band, the Idahoan troubadour tore through an energetic and thorough set spanning his entire discography. Ritter began with the gentle "Lantern" off this year's So Runs the World Away, but thankfully wasn't content to simply stand and strum. Over the course of the night, he and the band swung from lullaby-tempo odes to rockers to extended improv jams, working surprisingly tight grooves.

Not the self-serious type, Ritter broke up the performance with absurdist banter about potatoes and cows. And his sense of humour bled into the songs too, from the mummy-in-love yarn of "The Curse" to the folk-figure cage match of "Folk Bloodbath." The sweet "The Temptation of Adam" was a clear favourite, an apocalyptic romance set in a missile silo.

Towards the end of his set, Ritter brought the lights down and led attendees through a hushed rendition of "In the Dark"; the tune climaxed with full-scale lighting mimicking a sunrise, bringing rapturous applause as the room lit up slowly. You would be hard-pressed to find a concertgoer whose smile didn't match Ritter's as he and his band took their bows. Ritter might be a ham, sure, but he's a winning one.
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