I told myself after I missed Deer Tick at the Somerville VFW in 2007 that I’d never bother to actually go see Deer Tick again. Nine years later, officially branded social media channels guided my decision to head down to the ‘ole Majestic with my fellow cis-gendered white folk and check out the opening act, a man by the name of Ryley Walker (no relation). I spent the week binging on Walker’s music, which ranges from pre-Lonelyland Bob Schneider to Steven Stills 2 to anything Tim Buckley ever did all the way back to Nick Drake.
The first thing I noticed about this person is that he looks a little bit like Eddie Vedder, and I don’t mean that in a bad way, just in an observant way. I mean, I don’t think it’s intentional, but maybe it is and is it ironic or not? I don’t know.
While I was hoping for the full band in the tune of his most recent album, Primrose Green, we only got Mr. Walker and his friend, the brilliant stand-up bassist Anton Hatwich, who kept up with Walker’s every little twist and turn, of which there were many.
The first thing that happens is that Walker didn’t seem entirely sure how to introduce himself. Is he high? Again, I don’t know. And I guess I’m not in a position to worry.
But then the music starts. At times, it seems like there are three guitarists on stage, a rhythm strumming the open D chords capo-ed to wherever Walker seemed to be fidgeting in that moment, an acoustic lead, noodling its way up the fret, and another combo, riffing on the chords adding more dimension when it seemed no longer possible.
But it was just Walker there. And Hatwich, bopping his head like it was nothing. Does that make sense?
Walker comes across as angry in his songs, riffing and strumming as if we don’t exist and the drool and trance he works himself into is his own folly, or strength. He’s desperate for something, and that pleases me, and makes the bros lighting up the room with their instagrams yowl with delight for just a moment.
Is this what emotion is? Who knows.
Walker and his stand up bass companion have a full 45 minutes on stage, and during that time, the room goes from pleasantly full to obnoxiously overcapacity, appropriately bringing a little more anxiousness and paranoia to the moment.
Down the street, at the Up North Bar, where shakes are always a dollar and drink specials include $2 something and $4 something else, a band called Bathtub Spring from Viroqua inspires their way through a set of covers and originals, true country, with three guitars. I can’t help but think of what they have in common with Ryley Walker, in that they sound like the Earth, and the place you came from, but from a different place on the mood spectrum: they’re desperate, but not angry.
And they make it work. They’re friendly and their friends are there, urging them on, while strangers cackle about their schoolboy crushes.
Back on stage at the Majestic, Walker makes a joke about crappy bar food, then rips into the hit: Roundabout, which is not a cover of the Yes song. The intro is another riff in Drop D with tons of hammers and pulls, rips and runs, during all of which Hatwich not only keeps up, but keeps us moving forward into a further madness of harmonics that end up sounding just as much like Ravi Shankar as a dude in a knit cap on stage who’s about to lose his mind.
He laughs a little as we cheer. Is he on to us? Is the jig finally up? Do we even have a chance? Then his eyes go dead again, leaning into the mic, and he’s looking past us again, leading us into his madness. We’re going in circles and getting dizzy.
There’s no question this man is intensely talented and passionate, and I hope that takes him far. I don’t know if we deserve it, because dessert is a dubious philosophical construct, but I do think the people on earth need more of this madness.
Because these are angry times.
Yes, we need this man, but I’m not sure he needs us, and I’m not sure Ryley Walker is a person who’s destined to remain on this Earth too long. But for the sake of all of us I hope I’m wrong.
I didn’t stay for Deer Tick.
By Mark E Griffin