The 9:30 Club: Still Awesome

I'm thinking of turning this "academics should have hobbies" thing into a series. This time? A little DC live music review.

Even if they're getting a slightly wider variety of acts in these days, it's still absolutely worthwhile to head down and see a show at the 9:30 Club. I wasn't overly pleased with finding out that Josh Ritter wouldn't take the stage until 10:00, but between the bar and the crowd-watching, we managed to keep entertained.

Not the sort to sit around on the balcony, we scoped out a space on the right side of the stage, a few feet from the dreaded speaker towers. I work on the assumption that if you can't feel the bass in your sternum, you might as well stay home.

Old School Freight Train, the openers, had an alt-country/rockabilly set that was impressively well done. They played like a band used to much smaller venues, sticking to the center of the stage, and not really playing to the balcony at all. But they sounded good, and seemed to be having fun. There's not much more you can ask of an opening act.

Well, that and a fiddle player who clearly thinks he's the cool one of the group.

But this is where my first irritated observation of the night comes in--how hard is it to stop and listen to a 45 minute set? We had no trouble with it even without knowing the band, and yet during every song break the dull hum of conversation was clear. If, as an audience member, you're planning to hang out and chat until the headliner goes on, wouldn't it make more sense to grab a seat at one of the local restaurants until 9:45 or so?

Still 10:00 rolled around, and we had a small debate about whether the crowd was bigger than the last Josh Ritter show we saw, in February at the Birchmere. (Turned out it was--Josh said it was his biggest crowd stateside, which earned him a lengthy round of cheering.)

The last tour was acoustic, and if the change in openers hadn't clued us in, the first set of songs would have--"Moons" and then a lot of other new stuff, broken up with older favorites like "Girl in the War" and "Harrisburg." The new album is fantastic, different from his old stuff and really well suited to the livelier crowd that was there to hear it.

Well. Most of the crowd, which is where we come to my second complaint of the night. I have a little problem with people coming in late and pushing to the front of the crowd. But I put up with it, figuring that I'm easily tall enough to see over, and if somebody loves the music enough to be seriously rude and push in front of people, I can cut them some slack.

But when four girls, all dressed for a dance club rather than a concert, push themselves and their drinks through the crowd to the front and then proceed to text message and talk for most of the show, I find myself strangely unperturbed by the knowledge that in ten years they'll probably be deaf from standing directly in front of the speakers.

Seriously. It was rude to the audience, it was rude to the band, and that little hair-flip thing? Did not endear them to anyone. Nor did the random efforts at dancing, which seemed to involve trying to strike down anyone nearby with a well-placed (if unrelated to the current song) back-and-forth shove of the shoulders.

Given the situation, I felt absolutely no guilt about screaming in the nearest one's ear at every opportunity. Or about singing, probably off-key. Given that none of them knew any of the songs, I doubt it did much to lessen their concert experience.

(And although, yes, I am a music snob, in this case I feel justified. On three distinct occasions, I heard one of them point out that they didn't know what was going on, didn't know why certain bits of patter were funny, and didn't know the songs. Just...if you have to be ignorant about something, try to pretend to care about what you're hearing. It's not difficult. It involves standing there and keeping your mouth shut. And not having your phone out to send text messages during the set.)

Anyway. Despite the minor annoyance, the show was brilliant. Josh seemed to really be having fun, feeding off the energy of most of the crowd and the harder sound of the new record (which is wonderful. Have I mentioned that? Because it is and you should go buy it right now) and the band. His stories were just as wandering as ever, funny and a little odd, and the love for what he does was obvious.

His bafflement at the presence of actual people from North Dakota was sweet, and he gave a quick reference to the live webcast of the show on NPR. After that, it was mostly music, from the rock beats of "Rumors" to a rousing rendition of "Kathleen."

And the encore, which featured an acoustic song and then a quick joint number with Old School Freight Train (both of which I really ought to be able to pin down, but it's late and I'm tired and my brain has decided to call it a night) was a great way to round out the evening. All in all, every time I see him in concert I like Josh Ritter more, and this was no exception. He seems comfortable with the new songs, and although he was lovely to meet last time he came through and charming in a completely different way, he just seemed to be having more fun this time around.

And now I just have to remember to buy a ticket for The Academy Is... next week. They sound nothing like Josh Ritter, but it's looking to be a great show nonetheless.

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At 10/10/2007 11:19 AM, Blogger Priya said...

Well, the last time I was there, the band told off some of the annoying people. The time before that, my sister almost started a fight with a group of young 'uns who wouldn't stop talking. And, there was the time when I was getting pushed aside (and I, unlike you E, am not tall) even though I'd gotten there much earlier than other people. I think annoying crowd members but excellent music is the norm at the 9.30...I've not (yet) seen a bad show there and this one sounds fantastic!

At 10/31/2007 8:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was at the 930 show also. I also know what 4 girls you speak of. They were pretty annoying.

Overall, I thought it was an amazing performance. So good in fact, that I got tickets for the North Carolina show in November. Making the haul.

And the last song that night, was Last Great Romantic and before that The River, a Springsteen cover.

Always glad to hear from another fan of Josh.



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