[Photo by Sierra Starno on Instagram]
The second time I saw Ryley Walker happened to be not long after I had received some bad news. I had immersed myself in his music since encountering him at Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh some months before. This time, I knew what to expect from him, but on a personal level, I felt unmoored in a way that I hadn’t in years. What struck me as he poured himself into “Summer Dress” that afternoon at Rough Trade in 2014 was not that the actual words he was saying necessarily spoke to my condition, but the way they sounded. Part of the beauty of Walker’s work is that his often-obtuse lyrics can be a blank canvas, albeit one surrounded by a complex web of sound. I couldn’t speculate what Ryley had experienced in order to pen these songs, but whatever it was, somehow, hearing him experience it made me feel better.
This show, at the multipurpose Williamburg venue Villain (relocated from the temporarily re-shuttered Market Hotel), took place less than week before what would become the most catastrophic political event in my lifetime, so I can’t say that it gave me the same level of comfort at the time. Listening back to this performance now, though, I think this music once again serves the same purpose. Even in the darkest of times, there are voices that speak to us, that lift us up, that remind us why it’s worth it to go on.
This set came at the rollicking end of the band’s U.S. tour. And I do mean band. As has been the case with recent shows I’ve seen, Ryley arrived with not only the stalwarts Ryan Jewell on drums and Anton Hatwich on bass, but he also had sometime musical partner Bill MacKay there to do double duty with him on guitar. It befitted not only this larger room (you can hear its size in the recording) but the direction Ryley has preferred of late, with his album songwriting serving as more of a jumping off point to dense psychedelic folk jams, Grateful Dead-style, than as pieces to stand by themselves. To wit, this show of just four songs was the longest I’ve seen by Walker yet–over 80 minutes long.
One of Walker’s more interesting paradoxes is how different his between-song persona is from the music he plays. To the same degree that his songs drift toward melancholy and darkness, the guy that shows up in between traffics in an exuberant, could-give-a-fuck abandon, cracking jokes about showing up at the wrong kind of “improv” party, talking about his band of accomplished jazz players as if they’re no different than the twenty-year-old punk knuckleheads down the block. Maybe that’s right–maybe they’re not. Music itself may often be serious, but it doesn’t have to be somber, at least in a room of friends.
My favorite of this night’s numbers was a song from Ryley’s latest, Golden Sings That Have Been Sung, that I hadn’t seen live yet. This twenty-three minute version of “Age Old Tale” began with a sustained ambient noise jam that paid homage to this neighborhood’s roots (“this is where you’d have gone to see a noise band fifteen years ago” Ryley said of the room, or something approximate). If you’d walked in during this song, you might have had no idea that the best comparison that certain corporate publications can come up with for Ryley is Van Morrison. It might be true of his albums, to a point, but what you experience in the room is something else entirely, and a sustaining reason why I personally never miss his shows. We need music right now. We especially need music like this.
I recorded this set with a soundboard feed from the FOH Ryan together with Schoeps MK4V microphones back by the soundboard. If I do say so myself, it’s pretty fucking cool that I got a shoutout from stage during the process of recording this. This isn’t one of the easier rooms, sound-wise, but based on the music alone, this recording should be a must-add to your collection.
Download the complete show: [MP3/FLAC/ALAC]
Stream the complete show:
Brooklyn, NY USA
Exclusive download hosted at nyctaper.com
Recorded and produced by acidjack
Soundboard (engineer: Ryan) + Schoeps MK4V (DFC, at SBD)>KCY>Z-PFA>Zoom F8>2x24bit/48kHz WAV>Adobe Audition CC (compression, fades)>Izotope Ozone 5 (EQ, effects, image)>Audacity 2.0.3 (track, amplify, downsample, dither)>FLAC ( level 8 )
01 [intro banter]
02 The Roundabout
04 Sullen Mind
06 Age Old Tale
08 Funny Thing She Said
Bill MacKay – Guitar
Anton Hatwich – Bass
Ryan Jewell – Drums