Show Review: Hiss Golden Messenger, One Longfellow Square (July 26, 2017)

I really wanted to take pictures of this show while Mike Taylor was playing music, but it was too quiet at One Longfellow Square. That is to say, while the room was absolutely full, the noise from the camera shutter would have been wholly audible, because everyone was listening so intently. It was great. Through two sets that spanned the entire Hiss Golden Messenger catalogue, including several new songs from the recently announced album Hallelujah Anyhow (Merge Records, September 22), this was another gem in what has become a tradition of solo shows at one of New England’s best listening rooms.

The first set was a balance of new songs, tunes from Heart Like a Levee, released last fall, and Bad Debt, the album recorded at Taylor’s kitchen table in 2009. Taylor commented that he was playing some of the songs for the first time in a while. These shows at OLS have become places where he can dig deep into the back catalogue and stretch out new work; last night, he pulled out “Bad Debt” and “Balthazar’s Song,” back-to-back in the first set and I heard people saying ‘yes,’ and clapping with appreciation at the start of the songs.

Because of the attentiveness of the audience, he was able to use his vocals to subtly accentuate the songs, preaching and hollering one moment and whispering the next. In the second set, “Cracked Windshield,” a song he connected to the memory of his late friend Jason Molina, was damn near perfect, and when the song ended there was a beat or two of silent, unanimous appreciation before any applause. The HGM standard “Call Him Daylight” was another diamond, with Taylor’s precise guitar picking driving the intense rhythm of the song.


Taylor has described the new album as, “music for hope.” A thread running through the new tunes he played last night was the dichotomy of darkness and light. But Taylor would take issue with the idea that darkness and light are dichotomous: in his album release announcement, he wrote “I’ve never been afraid of the darkness; it’s just a different kind of light.” Over the course of the night, we heard the somber, “Harder Rain,” the sweet, “Caledonia, My Love,” and the driving, “Domino (Time Will Tell).” Other new songs from the new album included “John The Gun,” which was recorded on Vestapol, also released last year, and I think (based on the lyrics), “Lost Out In The Darkness,” a song Taylor said was originally written when Lateness of Dancers was released but just wasn’t right in that body of work. The final song of the night, “When The Wall Comes Down,” was as inspiring as anything I’ve heard in a long time; it’s a song we need right now. Suffice to say, this show made me all the more excited this new album in September, and for when Hiss Golden Messenger comes to The Sinclair in December. Put it on your calendar now; it will be special.


You can pre-order Hallelujah Anyhow here.