REVIEW: Josh Ritter and The Royal City Band/Elephant Revival's Sermon to the Fonda Theatre

By Jessica Klausing

 

Josh Ritter with drummer Liam Hurley photo by Jessica Klausing

Josh Ritter with drummer Liam Hurley
photo by Jessica Klausing

Josh Ritter and The Royal City Band serenaded fans at the Fonda Theatre in Hollywood, CA on January 19 with a slew of brand new songs from the new album, Sermon on the Rocks (2015). The night was filled with heartfelt lyrics, foot-stompin’-hand-clappin’ folk melodies and of course, lots of smiling!

Elephant Revival photo by Jessica Klausing

Elephant Revival
photo by Jessica Klausing

Elephant Revival opened the show with “Birds and Stars” from their 2013 album, These Changing Skies. This acoustic quintet’s style can be described as transcendental folk rock.  Their music incorporates a smorgasbord of Scottish/Celtic, bluegrass, jazz, indie rock with a twang of psychedelic country. Just think if Americana had crashed a Yiddish party, this is how it would sound. I was quite impressed with their musical arrangements. For starters, I have never seen anyone rock out on a washboard and musical saw like Bonnie Paine!

Bonnie Paine photo by Jessica Klausing  

Bonnie Paine
photo by Jessica Klausing
 

 “Quill Pen Feather” shows off the band’s more country western rockin’ side with Bridget Law’s violin infused with bittersweet literary imagery: “You were throwing colors/ Upon canvas walls/Your words cut through the human/Mending wounds but still bleeding.”

The highlight for me was the beautiful acapella, “Raven Song,” which proves that a band does not need intense instrumentals to make a profound song. Instead, Paine’s haunting vibrato calls out to the weary: “Some say that that upon that mountain/There is many a raven/They call out to the living/From somewhere far beyond them/From those we love that have flown on.”

ElephantRevival’s new album releases in April. It’ll be worth your time to give them a listen.

Josh Ritter photo by Jessica Klausing

Josh Ritter
photo by Jessica Klausing

Josh Ritter took stage dressed in a paint-stained blue jumpsuit in front of a colorful mountain canvas. This was the exact same outfit and backdrop as seen on the cover of his new album, Sermon on the Rocks (2015).

Ritter crooned right into the acoustic guitar opener, “Good Man,” from The Animal Years (2006). The rest of the band came on stage next for the upbeat, “Birds of a Meadow.” This was one of the songs off his new album. Each time Ritter belted out, “Fire is Coming. Fire is Coming,” the red stage lights illuminated the mountain backdrop like a spreading wildfire.


These colorful stage lights helped set the mood for Ritter’s playful storytelling. Whether it was a dark blue night sky during the heart wrenching, “In the Dark” or a rainbow aurora during the “You are the Northern Lights/They try to shine through your curtains/You’re too close and too bright,” part of “Kathleen,” it was a breathtaking sight to be seen!

Ritter was all smiles and beaming energy for the entire set. Literally, the entire set. It was often hard to take the darker songs seriously like, “Engine Engine Number 9” and “Girl in the War” because of all the smiling. However, Ritter’s big smile was so infectious that you just couldn’t help yourself but to grin and bounce along too. It was evident that he really enjoys performing!

“We have lots of new songs to go through. It’ll be a lot like speed dating,” joked Ritter.

Josh Kaufman Photo by Jessica Klausing

Josh Kaufman
Photo by Jessica Klausing

His newer album was recorded in New Orleans, like the city, the music showcases plenty of zesty spirit. “Getting Ready to Get Down” and “Where the Night Goes” are prime examples of this with the electrifying guitar delivery by Josh Kaufman. The audience would cheer and clap alongside Ritter and the band.

Sam Kassirer Photo by Jessica Klausing

Sam Kassirer

Photo by Jessica Klausing

It was Sam Kassirer’s hauntingly beautiful piano introduction of “Homecoming” that really captivated me.  Those graceful chords really honed in with Ritter’s “I’m headed home” lyric. It was an excellent way to conclude the emotional journey Ritter shared with us that night.

Zack Hickman Photo by Jessica Klausing

Zack Hickman
Photo by Jessica Klausing


No encore would be complete without “To the Dogs or Whoever,” from The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter (2007). This was the ultimate crowd favorite as the audience would scream out “In the dark I thought I heard somebody call.” The enthusiasm ended the show on a high note as Ritter and his band mates took a heartfelt bow.

Josh Ritter and The Royal City Band will continue their 2016 U.S tour in San Francisco, CA on January 20 and will conclude May 29 in Charleston, SC.   

SETLIST:
Good Man
Birds of the Meadow
Young Moses
A Big Enough Sky
Right Moves
Henrietta, Indiana
New Lover
Seeing Me ‘Round
Where the Night Goes
Cumberland
The Stone
In the Dark
Engine Engine Number 9
Hello Starling
Bonfire
Girl in the War
Rumors
Getting Ready to Get Down
Homecoming

ENCORE:
The Temptation of Adam
Kathleen
To the Dogs or Whoever