[photos by acidjack]
I have only seen Hiss Golden Messenger once before with a full band, a revelatory performance at the 2012 Hopscotch Music Festival. Since then, I have caught Mike Taylor several times in what one might call his de facto state, as the solo artist on his own, playing songs the way he did for his stripped-down, four-track album Bad Debt. In my time following Taylor’s work, I have come to see HGM as the embodiment of two different instincts — one, the band-leading artist drawing on his love of audience-pleasing, crowd-moving southern rock and gospel found in particular on Haw and Country Hai East Cotton; the other a man alone in a kitchen beside a sleeping baby, wrestling with his demons as the tape spools away like time. The challenge, and the reward, of Hiss Golden Messenger is the ability to reconcile those impulses.
This set at Rough Trade NYC, sponsored by Aquarium Drunkard, began with one of my all-time favorite HGM numbers, “Red Rose Nantahala” from Haw. As that song segued into the upbeat “Saturday’s Song” from Taylor’s Merge debut, Lateness of Dancers, it almost told the story of the latter-day band in two songs. The first finds Taylor pleading “Oh Lord, let me be happy” and “let me be the one I want”. The next, from an album that by all rights should take HGM to the “next level“, is a grown-up father’s song, about wanting to cut loose on the weekend, drink some whiskey, Sunday hangover be damned. The character in that song seems resolutely himself. Content at last, hangover be damned.
After that second song, Taylor slapped his guitar and noted that a Hiss Golden Messenger tour used to just be him and that single instrument (that’d be as recently as March, when he played a tour de force performance at Mercury Lounge). Today the band is a five-piece that features longtime collaborator Scott Hirsch on bass, Matt Douglas on saxophone, vocals and guitars, Megafaun‘s Phil Cook on keys, banjo and vocals, and Matt McCaughan (Rosebuds, Portastatic, Bon Iver) on drums. In some ways, the band reflects Mike’s changing circumstances, not only as a more known musician, but as an ever-more-firmly entrenched member of the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill, North Carolina music scene whose players pop up as regularly on each other’s records as they do at one another’s shows. Lateness feels less like a purely Mike Taylor album and more like a Triangle music album circa 2014, at a time when the scene is flourishing in all sorts of ways, but also ever-more-mindful of its roots. It leans, then, more toward Mike’s country-rock and gospel impulses, and that’s a fine thing.
So when we heard the Poor Moon classics “Blue Country Mystic” and “Call Him Daylight” in this new configuration, they were part of the “dance portion” of the set, an entire concept new to HGM sets that I’ve seen. “Daylight”, in particular, became a twangier, country-funk number, and as Douglas’ sax breakdown hit, the most striking thing of all was that people actually did dance. I shook my head a tad at a reckoning with god inspiring that reaction in people, but when Taylor hit the song’s final, climactic verse, the chills were there. As far as southern rock-via-HGM goes, it’s hard to beat “Lucia” from Lateness, or the equally compelling “Raven (Snake Children” that followed. This was my first time hearing both of these songs live, and they seemed to benefit most from the band and this setup (which isn’t surprising, since these players recorded them). Similarly, the Lateness material I had heard live before — “Southern Grammar” and “Chapter & Verse” — sounded better-realized than ever.
In another sign that today’s HGM is a more collaborative effort these days, the show’s final song was played on the floor, unamplified, with Taylor and the band pressed in on all sides by fans, performing “Drum” as the crowd added its own percussion and sang along. “Take the good news / and carry it away”, the crowd sang, rendering Mike’s voice just one among many. Hiss Golden Messenger has grown from one man and one instrument to a true band, and the good news for us is, they’ve got many miles left to travel. “We’re going to play a lot of shows this year. I guess everybody up here needs to get ready for that,” Taylor told us earlier in the set. That goes for you fans out there, too — here are the current tour dates.
I recorded this set with Schoeps MK4V microphones at the soundboard and a stereo feed from house engineer Cameron. The sound quality is outstanding, though of course note that “Drum” was sung on the floor unamplified, so it sounds like that. Enjoy!
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Hiss Golden Messenger
Rough Trade NYC
Brooklyn, NY USA
Exclusive download hosted at nyctaper.com
Recorded and produced by acidjack
Schoeps MK4V (inside SBD cage, PAS)>KC5>CMC6>Sound Devices USBPre2 + Soundboard (engineer: Cameron)>Edirol R-44 [OCM]>2x24bit/48kHz WAV>Adobe Audition CS 5.5 (align, mix down, adjust levels, limiter)>Izotope Ozone 5 (light EQ, imaging, effects)>Audacity 2.0.3 (fades, tracking, amplify, balance, downsample, dither)>FLAC ( level 8 )
01 Red Rose Nantahala
02 Saturday’s Song
04 Mahogany Dread
05 Day O Day (A Love So Free)
07 Busted Note
09 Blue Country Mystic
11 Call Him Daylight
13 I’ve Got A Name for the Newborn Child
16 I’m A Raven (Snake Children)
18 Southern Grammar
19 [encore break]
20 Chapter & Verse (Ione’s Song)
22 Drum [played on the floor]
If you enjoyed this recording, PLEASE SUPPORT Hiss Golden Messenger, visit his website, and buy Lateness of Dancers from Merge Records and his other records from his shop. And see the band on tour.