- by Jack Kiser Rating: Release Date: Label:
It goes without saying that Ryley Walker willfully displays moments of off-kilter experimentation throughout his discography. His live performances are no different. I had the privilege to catch Walker warm up a modest crowd in support of southwestern mexi-rock act Calexico at the Mercy Lounge in Nashville, Tennessee. Within days of his 5th studio release via Dead Oceans, this Chicago troubadour embarked on an extensive domestic US tour followed by another batch of European tour dates this summer. With this already tight window shutting aggressively, Walker’s gregarious nature illuminates even in the most sporadic of performances. The same can be said after the terse display that Wednesday night.
Barely scraping 45 minutes, the audience was immediately perplexed as soon as Ryley took to his set. While many of his new compositions do not require the inclusion of a drummer, it was still very peculiar to not see one take the stage. Instead, a gang of four (no pun intended) emerged on the smoky stage—just Ryley, a double bass, and two other electric guitarists. With them came an array of effects, including several pedal boards, small splash cymbals, and a toy train whistle. Obviously, the audience was in for a treat, or so it seemed. Walker and his backing bandits played 45 minutes, yes, 45 minutes, without a rest. From beginning to end, it was practically an exposé through the avant-garde fragments of Walker’s mind. Through and through, I became increasingly confused, yet overwhelmingly enticed by the display of this abstract exhibit. Guitar strings forcefully plucked, accompanied by fading hyena yells from Walker, readily prepared the aura to haunting and comical simultaneously.
With all the charismatic antics that Ryley played with during his set, it sadly felt very unsatisfying. It’s easy to acknowledge that Walker is an effortless musical talent, but his performance was lackluster and uneventful. There were opportunistic times for Walker to plug his new upcoming release but was instead emphasized on an experimental lieu. Without one new single played, it grew increasingly befuddling who was on stage. His presence in the indie realm goes without contention, however, his live performance will have to be elevated if he is to fulfill headlining opportunities in the near future.