Tonight, I felt a little better knowing I'll never see Bruce Springsteen on the Asbury Park boardwalk singing a seaside bar song circa 1973. But Tillie's been saved, the Stone Pony's riding high and the Empress still rules, so tonight, it was a good night to be named Lilian, Kathleen or Jiggs and we could have been Harrisburg, Lawrence or Egypt. Instead, we were at the Vic, and we saw what Bruce show must have been and felt like 33 years ago.
I wish I could take back what I always say about opening acts. Their names come and go like some Yellow Pages gone flipping crazy -- Martin Sexton, Jesse Malin, Cornershop, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Regina Spektor, and so on (thank god Bruce, at this point, doesn't need one). And I always get restless and want it to be all over soon, so I can watch whoever I'm there to see. I got my comeuppance tonight, because we only got 30 minutes of Josh Ritter and his band -- six songs. Come to think of it, I should have taken all this back when Ray Lamontagne opened for Guster. That was 35 minutes. I would have traded the entire 16-minute "New York New York/Wharf Rat" sequence from Ryan Adams' 2004 fall tour for five more minutes of Ritter. And thrown in the five minutes of "Worlds Apart" from the 2002/3 "The Rising" tour, too.
So this is what I love about Ritter live. Thirty minutes onstage, and perhaps 45 seconds when he didn't have a smile on his face. Gusto, charisma, and personality were all part of the performance by a guy truly in love with his band and his audience. He knew most of the teeny boppers and desperate housewives were there for schmaltzmeister Jamie Cullum, so he always earnestly thanked the house for listening after every song. And for the "Lilian, Egypt" finale, he got every non-fan to growl like a pirate and dah-dah-dah along to the chorus. Then, he sealed the deal by finding a way to work "Erie Canal... low bridge, everybody down" in an interlude. It was the second coming of Springsteen.
Because we're the kind of friends who email in Bruce lyrics (Me: I've seen better days. Caroline: You know you ought to quit this scene, too.), Caroline and I discussed Springsteen/Ritter analogies before and after the show. First of all, stating the obvious -- the tousled hair and the open-collared shirt under slim-fitting suit. Extremely Hammersmith Odeon ("Born to Run" tour, November 18, 1975).
There was Sam Kassirer, who dressed like a scene from "Dallas" pounded the keys like a Western saloon pianah player. Like Danny Federici, he also moonlit on the accordion. Dave Hingerty was a pretty mean rhythm bandit -- he'd roll a tight "Born to Run" intro. Zack Hickman has way more hair than Garry W. Tallent ever will, and a much better dress sense. OK, so Josh Ritter is NOT entirely Bruce Springsteen, Jr.
Together, they all played Josh's songs about asking girls to dances, driving girls home from dances, California, L.A. badlands, Midwestern flatlands, lovesickness, heartsickness, cowboys, driving away, Johnny Cash tributes, and the golden age of radio. Caroline felt that one line from her all-time favourite, "Kathleen" -- "But I'm here and I'm ready and I've saved you the passenger seat" -- echoed "Thunder Road"'s "From your front porch to my front seat." I surmised that "Wolves"' "At times in the frozen nights I go roaming in the bed she used to share with me" was akin to "I'm On Fire"'s "At night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet..."
Not forgetting the Dick Cheney jokes. Or that goofy stage sidekick. Sometimes they wear bandana doorags, sometimes they wear white Stetsons.
If all this isn't more than happy coincidence, then get me a Prozac, stat. After the show, we skipped out on potential headlining snoozer Jamie Cullum and hung out with Josh in the lobby. We were beginning to feel like very novice fans until we realised everyone received the same hearty "How ya doin'?" and sincere kiss on the cheek, even the Trixies. He was concerned about how the band sounded, and we jabbered about Cash, "Erie Canal," him running the NYC Marathon, audiobooks about Shakespeare, and the show I missed (but Caroline didn't) last Saturday in Madison.
I guess we've seen the history of rock & roll, and his name is Josh Ritter.