Ryley Walker Island Stage, Guelph ON, July 24

Ryley Walker Island Stage, Guelph ON, July 24
Photo: Matthew Ritchie
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The spirit of roving '70s roots artists and (to a lesser extent) the Grateful Dead is alive and well in the sounds of folk-leaning, Midwestern acoustic guitar god Ryley Walker and his band of more than capable merry musical men.
 
After a 15-minute jam that found his five-piece band — a combo featuring a stand-up bassist, electric guitarist, keyboardist and drummer, all lead by Walker himself, alternating between acoustic 12 and six-string guitars — pushing the limits of their minimalist, overwhelmingly vintage gear, as well as the limited atmospherics of Hillside's tent-covered Island Stage, the quintet exploded into a drawn-out and loose rendition of the title track from his most recent release, Primrose Green, and things only got more entrancing and hypnotic from there.
 
Although the sounds of their seemingly loosely constructed compositions may deceive the ear at times, there's a lot of control and restraint at work in Walker and his band's chaos, even in a set that somehow fit only five songs into an hour-long performance. Their extended segues never felt pointless or over-indulgent. Instead, the band seemed dialled in to every second of each other's improvisations and rambling grooves, with Walker bringing them down to more traditional plains only occasionally by shouting down a count or adding in his own charismatic crooning.
 
This was truly an electrifying live performance, and although the majority of the festival's curated jams were occurring the following day, it was hard to imagine any artists sounding as good as these guys.