Last week, Mike Taylor and his family of musician friends helped him bring down the house at Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York. The rising indie rock outfit Hiss Golden Messenger released Heart Like A Levee in September and the lineup is a hot stage of talent this tour. Phil Cook (former band mate of Justin Vernon in Deyarmond Edison) plays keys and guitar, Matthew McCaughan (Bon Iver) on drums, longtime friend Scott Hirsch on bass, and Mike even brings the soul warming voice of opening act Tift Merritt back to the stage for a good chunk of the headlining set. Mike praised her later on in the show admitting to the audience that he “wants to write songs for her voice.”
As The Crow Flies set the firey, funk jam mood for the night as the bass grooved and Mike’s soothing hum carried the song all the way through the ending notes. Next the band performed a powerful rendition of the first single Biloxi from the new album. With hammering chord progressions and a steady, travel vibe drumbeat, this song glorifies the alt Americana folk optimism sound that Mike has very much so achieved with his latest work.
Even though it wasn’t a Saturday, the third song in the set was Saturday’s Song, track number two from the 2014 release Lateness of Dancers. Besides the fact that the band lineup for that record is the same this time around, the song still remained fresh and felt tight with sky rocketing electric guitar riff’s and a heavy indie rock momentum. After an older, classic Hiss Golden Messenger song Red Rose Nantahala from the fifth album Haw, the vibe slowed and mellowed on Day O Day – another track from Lateness of Dancers.
The next four songs were a streak of new tunes, starting with a beautiful, honest version of the title track Heart Like A Levee. Tell Her I’m Just Dancing is one of the most memorable songs on the album and hearing the mysterious guitar effects and feeling the audience jumpy vibrations in the party part of the song live absolutely confirmed it. The next song Happy Day was a softer, more relaxed chill vibe featuring a funky breakdown and blaring keyboard soul from the fingers of Phil Cook. This short new song run ended with Like A Mirror Loves A Hammer, another edgy, more instrumental than songwriter song.
The absolute highlight of the night was Phil Cook’s sensational and unforgettable guitar solo during I’ve Got a Name for the Newborn Child. My jaw dropped and brain fried with excitement and I stood there in disbelief about how entertained I could possibly have been. As the set winded down Mike performed a haunting and mesmerizing version of Cracked Windshield, this album’s dark, acoustic raw track that Mike always mixes in with his more upbeat indie Americana rock material.
After closing the set with Lucia and Southern Grammar from Lateness of Dancers, the band came back on to the stage to perform the Grateful Dead song Brown Eyed Women which Mike just recorded for Aaron Dessner’s Day of the Day Tribute album. After the ending song Brother Do You Know The Road, the audience was left in anticipation for the next live show as the glow of the Hiss Golden Messenger positive, happy and hopeful vibes will live on and continue to heal all.
Scott J. Herman