I don’t know what the exact odds are on this, but they’re high: If there’s a band I like, Brennen’s probably how I know they exist. Any band name he forwards me gets moved to the top of the queue without a thought. He’s never, ever sent me something crap. Not once. Even the bands that haven’t been to my taste were worth the listen. He’s my dealer, is what I’m saying. A few years ago, I was visiting him in Boulder and he threw on his copy of Josh Ritter’s “The Animal Years”. I was hooked three songs in.
I’ve been hoping to see him live ever since. Living in a second-tier city demands some patience, though. In the three years since Brennen opened my eyes to him, Josh Ritter has not set foot in Pittsburgh. Until last night. One of the perks of running a big ticket website is that occasionally, every once and a while, you know someone’s coming through that you really want to see and can pounce on those tickets, predator-like, as soon as they go on sale. Which is how I ended up sitting in the front row for Josh Ritter’s concert at the Byham Theater.
Being front row at something is weird. You’re right up in the band’s crotches, and there’s a speaker right in your face, and even pulling out your phone to take a picture feels really conspicuous. It’s not the best musical experience you’re going to have, sitting that close to the band. On the other hand, you might luck into some really incredible moments, the kinds of things that make seeing someone live worth every hassle (finding parking: arg!) worth it.
Like during “Wolves”, when Josh Ritter himself came to the front of the stage, knelt down, and started howling. Then looked over the front row, saw my wife sitting right in front of her and howled right at her. Yeah, dudes. Josh Ritter howled at my wife.
Then there was this:
The band finished, and Ritter called his band up to get their deserved applause. I noticed the drummer coming around from behind his set and had time to think, just before he was introduced: Hey, he looks familiar.
Josh Ritter: “Liam Hurley on drums!”
Erin: “ZOMG Liam Hurley!?”
Me: “OMFG Josh Ritter’s drummer used to be my roommate!”
Ok, technically speaking, we weren’t roommates. My room at NYU was a suite. Three dorm/bedrooms attached to a common room. There were six of us in there. For the first semester, anyway. Halfway through the year, one of the guys in the dorm/bedroom next to mine left to live with some of his musician friends. Because, see, he was a drummer. That was the last time I saw Liam. In the winter of 1997.
We did something I never do: hang around the stage after the concert, hoping to talk to someone from the band. When a roadie got close, Erin called him over.
Erin: “Do you know if Liam went to NYU?”
Roadie: “Yeah, he did.”
Me: “OMFG he was my roommate!”
The kind roadie told us to stay around the stage area and Liam would be out eventually. Which we did, until a less-kind usher chased us out and told us that if we really wanted to try to talk to someone, we’d have to wait with the people who had backstage passes. One of those unstoppable waves of social anxiety hit me: he won’t remember me and I’ll feel like such a wanker standing with people who have legit backstage passes only to get a blank-look response from a band member I claim to know. I bailed and headed to the lobby. We were out there, in the lobby, getting ready to head to our car when Liam walked out looking for me.
It was pretty fantastic. I remembered Liam being a great guy. My memory was dead on. We only talked for a few minutes, but getting to catch up with someone you haven’t seen in fifteen years is a pleasure even when you haven’t spent all night listening to them kill it, musically speaking. It was worth the concert just for that moment of coincidence. Sometimes, life is kind of cool.
Oh, and the concert? Awesome. Just awesome. Ritter was a joy, and seemed to be having an absolute blast playing. His band – The Royal City Band, dressed in the awesomest clothes – killed it all night. The crowd was all in, the set list was fantastic, and even though Erin doesn’t know his music well, she had a great time.
Maybe it helped that she got howled at by a good looking singer/songwriter.