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all words: Erin Holmes
all photos: Joel Mittleman

The 9:30 Club and I are currently dating. Our relationship progressed from fun and casual to spending a little too much time together… then things definitely got serious on Monday night. Yes, on Valentines Day, 9:30 Club treated me to Scott Hutchison and Josh Ritter, sprinkled out some red rose petals and made sweet sweet love to me and everyone else in attendance.

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The first act, Scott Hutchison— an adorable, bearded Scotsman and lead singer-songwriter for indie band Frightened Rabbit— really set the tone for the evening. I went weak in the knees as he belted out BEAUTIFUL acoustic versions of Frightened Rabbits tunes such as “Swim Until You Can’t See Land,” already one of my favorites by the band and even more moving when intimately-played on acoustic guitar with just Hutchison’s voice on top (I had never made the connection between his and Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz’s vocals before, but they are similar in their controlled-screeching and can stand as impressive instruments all their own).

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Much of Hutchison’s set list was formed from a call-and-response with the crowd— requests included “The Twist,” “The Wrestle,” and “Living in Color”— which provided a great back-and-forth between him and the audience. One of the best moments of the night was when Hutchison started to perform “Head Rolls Off” (another shouted-out request) with the line “Jesus is just a Spanish boy’s name.” This prompted some laughter, so he stopped playing to start rambling: “Ya know, it’s not supposed to be funny. I guess it is kinda funny, isn’t it? Not my best line. It does have a serious message! I was 20 years old… songwriters are dickheads… anyone can be a songwriter…” Hutchison also likes to perform covers each night to keep him fresh, and his choice for Monday was Death Cab for Cutie’s “Different Names for the Same Thing,” which he dedicated to his girlfriend Sally. She was present at the show, so he told the crowd, “This is cheesy, but I love her to bits.” Swoon.

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Yes— love. The theme of the evening. And I officially fell in love with 9:30 Club during Josh Ritter’s first guitar intro. He ambled on stage toward a microphone wrapped in red roses to the most hushed crowd I have ever experienced, then started an acoustic performance of “Come and Find Me.” The microphone malfunctioned ever-so-slightly, so he repeated the first line “If I could trace, the lines that ran, between your smile and your sleight of hand.” It’s okay, 9:30 Club, I’m not even mad.

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The rest of the night was a magical blur. Ritter tours with fantastic musicians who came on strong for the popular second number “Good Man” and kept the sound on point during the twenty-four-song setlist, nearly two and a half hours of quality music and performance. It could go from a song like “The Curse” with Ritter nearly whispering the lyrics, backed only by a piano and keyboard, to a loud, upbeat, full-blown instrumental with drums, three guitars, and an added brass section on “Empty Hearts” and “Real Long Distance.”

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But Ritter still shined when alone with his guitar— I will remember for the rest of my life his performance of the exquisite “You Don’t Make It Easy Babe.” Also pretty sure everyone fell in love with their dates (significant others, spouses, and whatevers) during the cover of Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes.” It’s really difficult to put these moments into words… just picture two people that may have been standing sort-of close to each other at the beginning of the night who gradually and literally HELD EACH OTHER by the end of the show… The Ritter Effect.

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In that spirit, there were some lovable Valentines-Day-anecdotes that should be mentioned. Twice during the show, Ritter read V-Day dedications that audience members wrote. These were good. Some funny, some heart-melting, some nauseating… and a proposal! Here are my favs:

  • -“Sarah, thanks for coming to Josh Ritter with me. I’ll buy you roses or some shit.”
  • -“30 years and still going strong. I love you, let’s dance.”
  • -“Danielle, Josh Ritter’s got nothing on me.”
  • -Something I didn’t quite catch about how the bass player’s curly, ridiculously-awesome mustache “gives inspiration to bare upper lips everywhere.”
  • -“Happy Birthday. You’ll find a girl to shave your back someday.”
  • -“My Galway girl, will you marry me?” (She shouted out “YES!” from back near the bar, where a true Galway girl WOULD be… ordering a Guinness, no doubt.)
  • One dude to another dude, “We are both hetero but I seriously love you.”
  • And from Barack to Muburak, “You complete me.” (I didn’t really get it, but a lot of people laughed…)

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And after announcing, “The time has come to get very awkward,” Josh Ritter initiated a giant slow-dance for everyone in attendance (well, basically the couples) during “Kathleen,” complete with a saxophone solo. The mood-lighting for the night was over-the-top romantic, especially here, as couples— new and old, young and old, around the balcony and down in the front rows— started swaying, holding, grabbing, and making out (“There are no chaperones, just get right in there,” urged Ritter). At least he acknowledged that it would be awkward; it was, but it was also… splendid.

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Okay, to refrain from gushing about the entire night’s setlist (too late?), here are some standout moments: “The Temptation of Adam” and “Lilian, Egypt;” the epic audience-sing-alongs to “Girl in the War” (“This song is for the people in Egypt” -Ritter) and “Change of Time;” the Glo-stick frenzy during “Lantern;” and the encore, which consisted of “Galahad,” Scott Hutchison (“The best beard in show business!” –Ritter) coming back out for an acoustic duet with Ritter on “Stories We Could Tell,” and the grand finale “To the Dogs or Whoever.” Whew!

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To recap: I’m now in a relationship with the 9:30 Club, I love beards, and everyone at this show on Monday night— the single people, the newly-engaged, the fresh couples on their first or second dates, the old married couples who got away from the kids, and the one dad whose little daughter fell asleep on his shoulder— will remember this concert for the rest of their natural-born lives. Well done, Josh Ritter, Scott Hutchison, and the 9:30 Club (a venue Ritter himself called a truly “wonderful place” that they don’t take for granted…Yeah, my boyfriend’s pretty great).

Happy Valentine’s Day!!

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