Live Review: Hiss Golden Messenger – The Bowery Ballroom, NYC

Mike Taylor and his band of golden messaging music -makers have created an indie folk rock collective that continues to shine as one of the most prominent current live acts. Yes, Mike uses a Dylanesque voice. Yes, Mike’s signature strumming pattern makes it hard to pinpoint the correct song right way. Yes, during the show Mike will insert the word “yes” before the first word of many songs that don’t begin with a “yes” on the album. These Hiss Golden Messenger band characteristics are just simple observations I noted at night two of their Bowery Ballroom run in Manhattan, NY earlier this month. Golden glowing vibrations are permanently engraved in the halls of that venue because of their devoted, consistent energy throughout the entire show of genre shifting grooves.

The set began with a stripped down, mellow version of When the Wall Comes Down, the last track on the latest masterpiece album Hallelujah Anyhow. This immediate jump into an acoustic and intimate feeling was a surprising, unordinary way to engage the audience. Although the opening song wasn’t exactly a blast off into the rocking, upbeat Hiss Golden Messenger style it still served as a captivating opener.

Saturday’s Song brought the cheery, folk rock optimism style that every fan in the audience looks forward to at a Hiss Golden Messenger concert. This classic HGM song brings to mind elements of Jackson Browne’s music and hearing it live is the best medicine for entering the freeing, vacationing weekend mentality. Jenny Of The Roses, track two from the latest album, continued the upbeat, singer/songwriter positivity and also demonstrated the remarkable chemistry of their full band instrumentation. Since Hallelujah Anyhow was recorded live this latest tour served as a perfect way to keep their fresh studio tracks alive with similar studio magic on tour.

After heartfelt versions of Biloxi and Gulfport You’ve Been On My Mind, they whipped out a memorable, set highlight worthy version of Blue Country Mystic, the opening track from their powerful third full-length album Poor Moon. The electric feel of the live energy on this song is a must feel experience for true fans of this band. The ending jam set the mood for a beautiful segue into Mahogany Dread, a gem from album number six Lateness Of Dancers. After the audience helped the band get through a cover of Don’t Let Me Down by the Beatles, Like A Mirror Loves A Hammer set the vibe on fire and served as highlight number two of the night. With it’s edgy, mysterious jazz essence the song engulfed every sense in all bodies within the concert hall.

Red Rose Nantahala from Haw continued the rocking energy just before the band brought the mood down for the next two songs. Cracked Windshield, the most precious and tender work on the sensational Heart Like A Levee, showcased Mike’s deep poetic and honest songwriting capability. After extended silly turned sincere studio reminiscing stage banter with frontman Mike, Phil Cook (guitar/keys/vocals) admitted to the audience that the song they were about to play was his most “favorite song that Mike ever wrote.” Caledonia, My Love was an interesting song choice after Cracked Windshield because the two songs both provide important mood changing plot points in a similar album track list order. Together these songs instilled a necessary dance break for fans anxiously awaiting the remaining energy to finish off the night.

Domino, Tom Petty’s Won’t Back Down, and Lost Out in the Darkness provided a sharp, foot stomping stampede that kept the set list grooving by. After an electrified version of I’m A Raven, the band continued on with I Am The Song from their latest album. To close out the night the band performed stellar versions of Southern Grammar and a new fan favorite John The Gun. The band returned to the stage for a Pops Staples encore Friendship that turned into the classic Drum. This band is truly a folk rock and roll brotherhood with a loving and family bond that no other touring group today shares.

Scott J. Herman