Hiss Golden Messenger - The Lantern at Colston Hall, Bristol
One of 2014's more overlooked albums came from North Carolina's Hiss Golden Messenger. Lost in the rush to anoint the War On Drugs, Lateness Of Dancers was an American folk-rock classic in the making, full of southern charm and soft rock intonations. Inventive and engrossing, it has a mildly dark, Deep South feel and deserves a wider audience.
Having spent a decade releasing records on smaller labels and building a small - but dedicated - following, Lateness… was their most accessible release yet, both in sound and availability. Led by frontman MC Taylor and bassist Scott Hirsch, the rest of the line-up is filled on a revolving basis, with their live shows in particular ranging from acoustic solo (just Taylor) to a full band affair; the current tour is of the latter variety.
As far as openings go it was one of the more interesting approaches. "Who the hell are you? I've never been to Bristol in my life. How did you get here?" exclaims Taylor after the opening ‘Brother, Do You Know The Road?’ had morphed from a restrained off mic call and response between the frontman and his band to an extended jam (including a screaming guitar solo from the masterful Phil Cook). It certainly removed any midweek cobwebs.
Much of the focus on their recorded output is on the lyrics and themes in Taylor's writing, live is all about the groove. Kirsch’s bass propels each song forward and Taylor’s southern drawl makes it tough to decipher lyrics in the flesh - there’s something of Dylan about his delivery - and becoming transfixed by their perpetual funkiness is easy. Their influences are laid bare: the James Taylor cover ‘Angry Blues’, is in many ways the quintessential Hiss… song, based as it is on an ongoing bass riff; you can clearly hear the similarities with their own, excellent, ‘Southern Grammar’. They don’t just groove though; they’re into heavier rock than the recorded version of themselves and ‘I’m A Raven (Shake Children)’ is louder and harder live.
Fittingly, their final song (“This is our way of breaking the curfew,”) is a totally acoustic, off stage, campfire singalong with just Taylor, his guitar, bandmates on beer bottles, and audience quietly slapping thighs. Really. After the blues and rock of the previous 90 minutes it brings things full circle to the acoustic start and gives light to the very essence of the band: great songs played with care, attention and passion.