Hiss Golden Messenger – Rough Trade NYC – September 18, 2014
Raw seems to be everyone’s go-to word to describe music that’s innately soulful, so much so that it can sometimes seem a little overdone. I’ve always taken it to define the stuff of pure heart, feelings berthed there spilling right out, largely unfiltered by the brain, the great rationalization of our abstract and unruly emotions. There are few people who sing this stuff better than MC Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger. It’s not just evident in his compositions’ great emotional landscapes, but also you can see physical evidence of it as he performs. When he sings loud, he leans back as if the feelings coming out cause recoil like when firing a gun. Sometimes he’ll squint a little, further proof of the cocktail of feelings that first berthed the music. And all of that was on display last night at Rough Trade NYC, a perfect setting for an intimate performer.
When Hiss Golden Messenger last came to town, it was just MC Taylor and an acoustic guitar. This time, though, he was backed by a full band, including longtime collaborator Scott Hirsch and talented Megafaun multi-instrumentalist Phil Cook. With projects largely the vision of one musician, backing bands can seem a little out of step or merely following the lead of the group’s visionary. But that’s not the case with Hiss Golden Messenger, which speaks both to the band’s pure talent and their ability to feel out Taylor’s vision. “We’re going to start the dancing portion of this set,” said the frontman, somewhat tongue in cheek as he introduced “Blue Country Mystic.” The song had an irresistible group sound to it fleshed out with a full band, complete with collective rhythmic pauses, swooning baritone saxophone lines from Matt Douglas and some Cook wizardry on the keyboards.
“Lucia,” off the latest release, Lateness of Dancers, showcased the Hiss Golden Messenger’s harmonizing prowess, including some backup vocals from guest Alexandra Sauser-Monnig. The band’s encore took them out into the audience to play an acoustic rendition of “Drum,” a song that first appeared on the lo-fi Bad Debt and again on their latest release. The audience was encouraged to sing along to the song’s chorus: “Take the good news and carry it away/ Take the good news and spirit it away.” And without much coaching, fans beautifully filled out the harmonies. As adeptly as this band fulfills Taylor’s vision, there just might be something about his music so fundamental that it’s felt by everyone—and damn easy to sing along to. After the show, in what now seems to be standard protocol at Rough Trade NYC, the band hung around to talk to concertogers. The band-fan connection is strong with Hiss Golden Messenger, and it’s a beautiful thing. —Dan Rickershauser