Sunday, October 21, 2007

Concert review: Josh Ritter

Neil Young played the Morrison Center the other night, but with tickets in the $100 range, my husband and I decided to check out Josh Ritter instead. Ritter, the rising Moscow-based singer-songwriter, was playing for 20 bucks at the Egyptian. I am not sure that'll happen again anytime soon.

All my life, I've wanted to attend a big homecoming concert - you know, where an act makes good and comes home to wild acclaim. I thought a Built to Spill show might do the trick, and seeing them last summer (2006) at the Big Easy was big fun. But Doug Martsch and company aren't known for showmanship or even acknowledging their audience, so they may as well have been playing in Boston as Boise.

Ritter is different. At Saturday's show, he and his band not only treated a sold-out audience to a concert that was at turns gleefully raucous ("To the Dogs or Whoever," "Real Long Distance") and achingly reflective ("The Temptation of Adam," "Idaho"), Ritter just oozed appreciation for his home-state crowd. For one of today's most hyper-literate songwriters, a man who drops phrases like "the avalanche cascades" and "Episcopal philanthropists" into his lyrics, he seemed faintly overcome by the evening's energy.

"It's going to be an amazing night," he earnestly promised at the outset, and he used the adjective "amazing" several dozen more times in his ample between-songs banter. But he didn't deny his fans more personal fare, such as the story about how his family bought a hundred-pound sack of spuds from the Rotary each year. ("I don't need to tell you, that was protection money," he said.) He also recalled an eighth-grade class trip to Boise where he'd visited the Egyptian and saw "Outbreak" with Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo. Yeah, he's that young. In fact, a birthday card for him went around some of the balcony seats, and we all sang to Ritter, who turns 31 today.

Ritter is frequently compared to Bob Dylan, but while Dylan's voice can be a blunt instrument, Ritter's is a strong, supple reed. Several times during the evening, he backed away from the microphone to sing a capella to a silent house, perhaps most memorably in his encore cover of "The River" by Bruce Springsteen, a song he said he listened to endlessly while driving an early-morning rural paper route on the Palouse many years ago. His band was in great form, too. I especially enjoyed the muscular rhythm section of Zack Hickman on bass and Liam Hurley on drums. A three-man horn section added depth to several songs including "Rumors," though the sound crew slightly shortchanged them in the mix.

My husband barely knew Ritter before this show, and I was little more than a casual fan. But we both left the show sure we had seen someone sure to attain, if not superstardom, a reputation as a wildly entertaining and thoughtful wordsmith who shines both on record and live. "He's the real deal," Bruce said. Indeed. Josh and his band treated us all to one of the most magical evenings of music Boise will hear this year.

Yes, we passed up the $100+ Neil Young show for Ritter's $20 gig. We'd seen Young years ago, and these days, I'd rather see someone as their career waxes than as it wanes - but the fact is, Ritter delivered a nearly priceless show. I just hope he never gets too big to play semi-intimate venues like the Egyptian.

P.S. Before the show, we made our first visit to the new A Taste of Memphis restaurant on Idaho Street, in the former Villano's location. We enjoyed tasty catfish, a spicy black-eyed pea casserole, buttery collard greens, and flaky-crust fried peach pie. If you are looking for great soul food, this place has it. We'll be back.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Anticipating a Nobel?

Downtown Boise's Egyptian Theater - presenting an ever-widening array of concert, lecture, and film fare - has a interesting choice for its movie this coming week. You can go see An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore's Oscar-winning documentary on global warming, on the big screen for $4 October 12-18, with showtimes at 3, 5:15, and 7:30 p.m.

Why this movie? Why now? Well, Al Gore is atop the short list for possible winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, which will be announced Friday in Oslo. And even if Gore doesn't take home the prize, we could all benefit from another viewing of this film before the winter inversion season hits. Hmmmm ... maybe I'll get tickets for the clueless neighbor who insists on warming up his big honkin' truck engine for ten minutes starting each morning, even when it's 60 degrees out.

Update: Gore won the Nobel, and tickets are only $2!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

You are where you live

I was on a Southwest Airlines flight last week, and noticed an article in the inflight magazine titled "My Kind of Town." The premise was that if you don't feel at home where you're currently living, you can find somewhere more to your liking by moving to an area where people are more like you - and that demographic research is making that easier all the time. Southwest's Spirit magazine teamed with "Best Places guru Bert Sperling" and research firm Claritas to identify top ZIP codes for "The Single Life," "Cosmopolitan Couples," "Kids Rule," and "Senior Power" categories.

Raleigh, N.C., was profiled as the top pick for "The Single Life," but "Boise 83705" was named a runner-up, with this description, "With top-notch skiing, mountain biking, kayaking, and other adventure sports, Idaho's capital city attracts young professionals who moonlight as adrenaline junkies." I live in 83705, and I am none of those things - but it turns out the seven-oh-five also includes several other demographic groups including "Middleburg Managers," "Mobility Blues," "Sunset City Blues," and "White Picket Fences." (Blues means blue-collar, not Democratic.) My family doesn't really fit in any of these categories, either. We still like where we live, mere minutes from downtown, Boise State, the airport, and most of our activities. If we were able to move, I think I'd prefer another home within this same neighborhood.

Do you want to see what sort of people live in your neighborhood? Click here. I wish the site had a way for users to discover their ideal neighborhoods via a questionnaire rather than by trial and error. Actually, Best Places seems to have that tool, albeit for entire cities, not neighborhoods.