Levitation Live Shot: Pink Mountaintops, Ryley Walker, Christelle Bofale
East Sixth trifecta reckons the heart of psych weekend
By Doug Freeman,
11:55AM, Fri. Nov. 8, 2019
Performing at Hotel Vegas on a cold and wet Thursday night, Riley Walker may be the ideal artist for Levitation, exuding the spirit of the event in its full range of contradictions and possibilities.
The 30-year-old Chicago-staked guitarist locks in tight with his band, even as the songs feel like they might well careen off track at any given moment. He jousts raucously with the audience between songs, charismatic yet awkward. Walker even celebrated eight months sobriety while slinging melancholic and drugged out tunes.
In effect, he provided the perfect setup to the first night of Levitation’s weekend run.
Christelle Bofale opened the late-night show by proving her rising local talent. The singer’s fivepiece closed the 40-minute set with a slow, dreamy sink into this year’s debut EP, Swim Team. Bofale swung vocal versatility through heavy, personal songs like “Moving On, Getting On” as the backing touched with soulful jazz woven into a rising indie rock sound. Centerpiece “Origami Dreams” shined with a poppier play of sound, though “U Ouchea” mesmerized as her soft trill dripped into an easy groove.
Walker assumed the stage afterward and packed the inside of the venue with a backing trio – dual drums and bass – that kept pace in the twisted interplay as the now-Brooklyn-based bandleader burrowed into just four songs in his 40 minutes. Ten-minute opener “The Halfwit in Me” built from a meditative lull into chiming propulsion with a yelp from the frontman. Likewise, “Spoil With the Rest” from last year’s stellar Deafman Glance galloped into a mellow groove as Walker mumbled close into the microphone.
The crowd roared with each winding turn as the songs cut kaleidoscopically and bantered back and forth with the artist as he tuned. Most impressive was the lockstep improvisation with drummer Ryan Jewell as the band twisted out new rhythms. Nearly 15-minute closer “The Roundabout” spun like a desert caravan, mystical and enthralling as Walker has effectively evolved from the quaint folk of 2015 breakout Primrose Green to a provocative and thrilling experimentalist.
Pink Mountaintops closed out the night with Black Mountain frontman Stephen McBean solo for the first five songs, deploying machine rhythms even as a drum kit and keys sat idle beside him. McBean’s gauzy guitarisms began with “Comas,” the Canadian then dousing “I (fuck) Mountains” in reverb. When he finally hosted backing musicians, the sound swelled into a reckoning with “The Second Summer of Love” and the added female duet vocals of “Tourist in Your Town,” which set a high point for the set.
Unfortunately, by that point, most of the crowd had left.