Some artists just perform, but Josh Ritter goes above and beyond. At Terminal 5 on Saturday he mixed atmosphere, great presence, and unordinary moments into his performance, taking a cold night in Manhattan and turning it into a warm, memorable experience.

The stage was adorned with roses both casually rested and carefully wound up the microphone stands, and a record player sat on a table with a single spotlight shining down on it as it provided the venue’s house music (details befitting the “Valentine’s Day Brawl” theme of the tour). A member of the tour crew came out and removed the needle from the album just before Scott Hutchison from Frightened Rabbit appeared on stage. His set was loose and fun; he had no real set-list so he let the crowd shout their requests for fan favorites like “The Twist.” He even stopped during his opening song to tease the crowd as he had seen the Foo Fighters do during a live performance of their hit “Monkey Wrench,” to which he followed by quipping “for those of you that don’t know my music, this is shit.” After a lively 40 minutes, back on came the record player.

A curious thing happened the next time the record player stopped, however. Instead of Josh Ritter appearing, a not so quickly familiar face picked up one of Ritter’s guitars and began to (attempt to) play a song. After a few seconds of fumbling around, the crowd began to realize that it was none other than Josh Ritter fan Rainn Wilson (aka Dwight Schrute from The Office). Wilson hilariously vamped for a few minutes, and did an entire bit about creating a word cloud of Josh Ritter’s most used lyrics (and using said cloud to predict his next song), until he was interrupted by another familiar face – John Krasinski.

The crowd was all smiles by then, which was the perfect time for Josh Ritter to finally begin. He came out alone, immediately arresting the crowd’s attention with “Come and Find Me” before inviting the rest of the Royal City Band to the stage to really start the show. Ritter and the band ripped through some loud and raucous full-band tunes before mixing in another new element, Valentine’s Day dedications that were submitted to their website. Out came the band’s merch man with an oversized top hat from which Ritter pulled pre-selected submissions, ranging from the sweet (a few marriage proposals) to the hilarious (“To my future wife, I can’t wait to meet you so I don’t have to deal with crazy bitches anymore”). Back to the music they went, which also saw its fair share of curveballs, as Ritter mixed in Talking Heads lyrics and covered “Pale Blue Eyes” by The Velvet Underground. As electrifying as their full-band music was, the most impactful moments came in the slowest of songs like “Naked as a Window” and “Girl in the War,” during which Terminal 5 was maybe quieter than if it had been empty.

After nearly two hours of grin-inducing music (involving one more set of dedications), Josh Ritter returned for a few more songs in the encore. He played “Galahad” after unsuccessfully trying to bring out Scott Hutchison (who was nowhere to be found), and when Hutchison did appear they performed a joy-filled cover of The Everly Brothers’ “Stories We Could Tell.” It was one final special moment in a night that was full of them.

Josh Ritter

Scott Hutchison (of Frightened Rabbit)

WORDS & PHOTOS BY SEAN O’KANE