Photos by Eden Unger
By Eden Unger, Staff Writer
Artist: Hiss Golden Messenger
Venue: The Sinclair
When: Wednesday, October 25th
IT WENT DOWN THERE, AT THE SINCLAIR
My first thought when Hiss Golden Messenger’s MC Taylor stepped up to the mic at the Sinclair on October 25th, was “Oh my god he looks like a cult leader!” With long brown hair, a pair of aviators on, and a suit jacket over an unbuttoned button down, which revealed a dangly golden necklace, he looked as though he’d just stepped out of a commune and onto the stage.
For those who have never been to the Sinclair, which sits on Church St in Cambridge just around the corner from Harvard Square, imagine, if you will, a hipster taco bar that doesn’t serve tacos and instead serves as an intimate music venue. You can imagine a man like Taylor might not exactly look out of place in such an establishment. The night I traveled there to see Hiss Golden Messenger (HGM) play was the first time I’ve ever been called “young” by a bouncer, who marveled at my birth year when I produced my ID. I was worried that I wasn’t exactly the band’s target audience, but there were plenty of other young folk at the show, albeit dressed in a little more flannel than I was.
SYLVIE TAKES THE STAGE
HGM’s opener, Sylvie, took to the stage shortly after 8 p.m. and settled onto three stools. Ben Schwab, the man behind the band, sat to the left of Laura Jean Anderson, who was flanked on the right by Kevin Louis Lareau (Bublight). The three have their own projects, but are performing as a trio while on tour opening for HGM. They set the mood wonderfully, with Peter, Paul and Mary-esque harmonies and some pretty impressive acoustic guitar playing from Schwab and Lareau. “Rosaline” from 2022’s Sylvie was a standout, it reminded me of Pinegrove’s “Need 2,” but with a baroque tweeness and sublime musicality that left a strong impression.
DON’T SHOOT THE MESSENGER
Once HGM took the stage and got to playing, I realized that, luckily, my initial assessment missed the mark. Taylor’s vibe was more laid-back Southern boy turned city slicker than California faux holy man. Joined by a cadre of similarly bearded and or mustachioed musicians, they got the house-a-rockin’ in no time. The crowd, which had filled out over the course of Sylvie’s set, immediately started moving when Taylor, and piano player Sam Fribush on a Wurlitzer keyboard, kicked off their 2017 single “Standing in the Doorway.” On the chorus, a distorted guitar brought a heaviness to the otherwise jangly sound. They had me nodding my head in time.
I’d arrived at the show thinking I knew one of their songs, but having had listened to none of them in order to be surprised when they got on stage. It turned out I didn’t know any of their songs, but what I did hear was pleasantly surprising and surprisingly pleasant. Taylor and co. have a sort of polished grit that really shines under the lights of the stage, like a grain of sand that an oyster hasn’t quite finished working over into a pearl.
JAMMING OUT WITH A FEW HUNDRED OF MY CLOSEST FRIENDS
Between their first and second song, an audience member cryptically called out “How’s Guy Fieri?” Taylor took in stride though, saying that he didn’t know, but that he wished Fieri well nonetheless. Next up is “Call Him Daylight,” off 2012’s Poor Moon. The organ really comes to life on this one, joining lead guitarist Chris Boerner on a sick duo-solo.
HGM knows when to let it all hang out and jam a bit, reveling in their sweet Southern sound. But they’re also not afraid to hit you with a little punch of lyricism and profundity. This is true on songs like “Sanctuary” (whose lyrics go: “Like an arrow to the marrow, I know it feels like hell now. 'Til we make it to the other side), which reminded me of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way,” and “Say It Like You Mean It,” where Taylor croons that he “want[s] a new, new river every time I look down.”
Later on in the set, “Jump For Joy,” the eponymous track off their most recent album, has a bluesy, at times even jazzy, Home Depot theme song energy that sounds much better than what that description might suggest. For their encore, they played “Caledonia, My Love,” a sweet and low fan favorite from 2017’s Hallelujah Anyhow, and “Shinbone,” a funky ‘80s New Wave-y number with woozy electronics floating over disco guitar.
The first leg of this tour, in support of Jump For Joy, is a two month journey with stops up and down the East Coast and a few in the Midwest. Their engagement at the Sinclair was a two night affair, the first of which I was fortunate enough to catch.