Ryley Walker, Cloud Nothings
Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro
Thursday, April 17, 2014

Young people, studies say and have been saying for years, no longer use email. It’s apparently an outdated form of communication, not ruthless enough in its efficiency or opportune enough for spontaneous photography. This information makes me uncomfortable, I told a friend over email. I wasn’t old enough to feel this old. I felt even worse when I couldn’t find the entrance to the Cat’s Cradle on Thursday night, a place I’ve been countless times. I complained about the multiple reconfigurations the way an elderly person might complain about how they just can’t get the hang of using a mouse. “Back in my day,” I thought to myself, “there was one entrance, and it was right in the front.”

I was subdued, then, when Ryley Walker, the 24-year-old folk guitarist from Chicago, started at an elderly-approved 8:59, a minute earlier than he was scheduled to play. The room consisted of equal parts space to people, but he didn’t seem to mind. Walker’s thick, brown mop of hair hung over his eyes, suggesting a boyishness that his guitar playing belied. Before launching into “Primrose Green,” a song named for a drink consisting of hallucinogenic seeds in a glass of whiskey, Walker paused his two bandmates. “Hold on,” he said, reaching for the can of beer that sat next to his foot. “Let me take a sip.” He then held the can at a 90-degree angle and drained the contents in a few seconds. His stage presence was Snapchat; after the swill of beer, he introduced himself by saying, “North Carolina! I just got a fuckin’ biscuit from the Bo-Bobs or Doo-Dads or whatever!” But his guitar-playing was refined, channeling a different time altogether.
Walker proved a strange opener for Cloud Nothings, the Ohio-based indie rock trio whose crunchy guitar hooks and and shouted choruses fall more in line with bands like the Foo Fighters or Green Day, rather than songwriters like Tim Hardin or Bert Jansch. The crowd, which had grown considerably throughout Walker’s 40-minute set, went nuts when they took the stage, pushing off one another to form a human whirlpool. I had to move to the side of the club to keep my beer from taking an elbow. Small cups of water were more common among the nubile crowd. I felt old yet again.

Cloud Nothings’ live performance was an all-out competition, with guitarists Dylan Baldi and TJ Duke and drummer Jayson Gerycz all playing as loudly as possible, jockeying for attention rather than working together. They played at a breakneck pace, moving through almost every song off of their most recent album, Here and Nowhere Else, in less than an hour. Walker climbed back onstage during the last song, but several drinks in, he mostly meandered around with what may have been an egg shaker, or possibly a harmonica. Like the hour before it, the cacophony was nice enough, but it felt like the ending score to a teen drama, a pleasantly vibrant proclamation that now was a fine time to leave.

As I headed out the door, I waved goodbye to Walker, who offered me a copy of his new album. When he handed it to me, I asked him if he used email. “Nah, not really,” he said, as he inhaled from a cigarette and smiled. “But you can find me on Twitter.”