Two acts -- one an alternative pop band from Dublin, the other a tousle-haired singer-songwriter from Idaho -- will share the stage at the State Theatre tomorrow in what promises to be one of the highlights of the fall concert season. No, they may not be household names, but the Frames and Josh Ritter are both compelling performers, each in their own way, and the fact that they're longtime friends and tour mates makes for an overall vibe of contagious good will.
The Frames are led by singer-songwriter Glen Hansard, a passionate musician who quit school at 13 to perform on the streets and recorded his first demo, with money borrowed from his parents, when he was 17. Of the 50 copies he distributed to friends, one made its way to a guy who worked for Island Records, where Hansard was offered a recording deal and a chance to form a band. He called it the Frames, a name inspired by the collection of repair-in-progress bicycles that littered his front yard.
The group, which made its debut at an Irish music festival in 1990, encountered various obstacles on the road to Irish superstardom. On a high note, Hansard was invited to co-star in the 1991 musical film "The Commitments," which temporarily sidelined the band. Other, less positive, developments included numerous lineup changes and record industry maneuvers that saw the Frames bounce from label to label as they released a series of fine albums (only some of which made it to the United States) and built a large, loyal touring fan base in Ireland.
The Frames' reputation for invigorating, celebratory concerts was captured in a 2002 live recording, "Breadcrumb Trail," and they haven't skipped a year since, releasing "The Roads Outgrown" in 2003, another live CD, "Set List," in 2004 and a new studio recording, "Burn the Maps," earlier this year. The latter two, happily, are available in America on the Anti label and show a band of true skill, complexity and power.
Along the way, the Frames also gave a boost to the career of Josh Ritter. The son of neuroscientists, Ritter was inspired to buy a guitar after hearing the Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash duet on "Girl From the North Country."
After graduating from college, he moved east to explore Boston's historic folk clubs and became a regular at open mike nights, where his quietly plaintive voice and graceful melodies charmed the crowds.
At one of his shows, Frames leader Hansard was in the audience and invited Ritter to open the group's next homeland tour. In Ireland, Ritter became a genuine star with a hit single ("Me & Jiggs"), headlining tours and winning big in the Irish Hot Press reader's poll -- top five for best international folk act, international male songwriter and international male singer, next to Bruce Springsteen, David Gray and Johnny Cash.
Here in the States, Ritter emerged in 2002 with the self-released "Golden Age of Radio," recorded on a shoestring budget. A copy found its way to Signature Sounds Recordings and was released nationally, while one track, "Come and Find Me," was featured on HBO's hip series "Six Feet Under."
Since then, Ritter has split much of his time between the United States and Ireland, sharing stages with artists such as Beth Orton, Liz Phair, Damien Rice and Joan Baez and headlining shows as varied as at a castle in Dublin and at Virginia's own Iota Club.
His third CD, "Hello Starling," was recorded and mixed in a studio in rural France in only 14 days. Originally released on Signature Sounds, it was recently reissued on the respected V2 label, along with a special EP featuring live songs from a show in Dublin. "Starling," a lovely CD that grows even better over time, was rightfully placed on many year-end best-of lists.
Ritter spent the first half of 2005 recording in Chicago and Seattle with producer Brian Deck (Modest Mouse, Iron & Wine) and played some summer tour dates opening for Keane and My Morning Jacket. On this new fall tour with his pals the Frames, Ritter will be showcasing material from the forthcoming album "The Animal Years," set for release early next year on V2.
-- MARIANNE MEYER
The State Theatre is at 220 N. Washington St., Falls Church. 703-237-0300 or www.thestatetheatre.com. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $16. A dinner menu is available.
Share the love. Send a Live! suggestion to Mariannemeyer@comcast.net. Please write first before mailing any other materials.