Ryley Walker Rolls Through Bowery Ballrom For Madcap Adventures, Laughs & Songcraft (SHOW REVIEW)

This past Thursday night in New York City on March 17th, Walker, self-professed “minor league indie rock star”, rolled through the city’s famed Bowery Ballroom for a hometown show full of great songs, an unexpected amount of laughs, and some seriously impressive musicianship.

The show was opened by comedian Adam Friedland – enlisted by Ryley after psych-rock duo Tonstartssbandht had to cancel last-minute due to COVID – whose short but very funny set, which ended with a crowd singalong of Haddaway’s “What Is Love” directed towards Vladimir Putin, lent a loose tone to the rest of the evening. Ryley took the stage soon after, accompanied by guitarist Bill MacKay, drummer Ryan Jewell, and bassist Andrew Scott Young, and welcomed the audience to “the indie rock portion of the set” as the quartet launched into “Striking Down Your Big Premiere,” the opening track on last year’s phenomenal Course In Fable

Making good on his own “post-wook” designation, Ryley’s sound took on a much more charged, electric, and jammed-out feel on stage than it has in his studio output. “The Halfwit in Me” began with a fluttering, spacey intro and descended into multiple noisy jams throughout, stretching the song into a mighty 12-minute powerhouse, while “Telluride Speed,” a highlight off of 2018’s Deafman Glance, culminated in the band unleashing knotty prog-rock riffs that called to mind the Dead’s “Terrapin Station,” albeit with a bit more grime. Even on the songs, they played more straightforwardly, like “Axis Bent”, the group brought a frenetic drive to the performance, with Ryley shaking his head and yelping into the microphone as the energy built up behind Ryan Jewell’s propulsive drumming. 

In between songs, Ryley proved to be quite the comedian himself (though this won’t be surprising to anyone who follows his highly entertaining Twitter feed), as he filled long gaps between songs with funny riffs on everything from his multiple guitars (“I’ve got a bunch, indie rock’s been pretty good to me. Also my dad buys me fucking anything I want.”), to St. Patrick’s Day (“I am Irish, but I don’t participate in the Celtic dark arts), to former Dreamtheater drummer Mike Portnoy (“He’s like Neil Peart if he was run through a cotton candy machine filled with DMT”). After joking about how his receding hairline sets him up perfectly to shill strings in guitar player magazines he asked the audience if he should go “straight into the rock song” or do a “bald ponytail MIDI synth-pedal intro”. The crowd obviously opted for the latter and Ryley obliged with an entrancing, feedback-laden guitar duet with MacKay before settling into the groove of Course’s “Shiva With Dustpan”. 

The set was rounded out with a spirited, perfectly-sloppy cover of Jane’s Addiction’s “Of Course” that featured MacKay on lead vocals and closing take on “The Roundabout”; building from a beautiful slow-burning 6-minute jam into the body of the song and then back as the musicians played off each other to bring things to a rollicking finale, with Walker’s finger’s climbing the neck of his guitar as the other three locked into an accelerating groove. They returned to the stage shortly after for an encore, running through the title track to Ryley’s 2015 album Primrose Green with a sense of verve, with Ryley turning in one of his best vocal performances of the night on the wandering folk tune and needing the evening’s festivities on a high note. 

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