Hiss Golden Messenger at Bush Hall, gig review: A joyful, shared experience

MC Taylor puts a lot of sweat into working out how he can craft a good song that means something to people

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The Independent Culture

In the sweltering, sold-out space at Bush Hall, the crowd has just turned as one to face away from the stage and over to a piano in a corner at the far end, where the opening notes to 'Brother, Do You Know The Road?' are being played.

Moving through the audience, Hiss Golden Messenger arrive like troubadours, frontman MC Taylor singing loud and clear.

'Brother', which has yet to find its way onto any of Hiss' full-length albums, is a dignified, restrained track that folds out slowly from gorgeous call-and-respond vocals. Climbing onto the stage, the band launches into a rousing, stormy jam that features a brilliant turn on slide guitar from frequent collaborator Phil Cook.

Taylor's voice is something of an enigma: nasal, pulled right from his soul, and with a pitch and earnestness that brings to mind the word 'holy', even for the non-religious. Tackling themes like mortality, faith, doubt and home, his intent gaze goes beyond the audience in front of him as he folds himself over his guitar – literally leaning into the music – and strips down a rich blend of folk-rock, blues and country.

Inspired by the spiritual wealth the American south has to offer and despite the lack of crickets and rainstorms heard on record, it’s easy to hear the country that inspires Taylor to write such profound lyrics. 'Mahogany Dread', with its tinge of bitter inevitability, expresses that small sense of regret at leaving home conflicted with a desire to travel and visit new places, while 'Westering' from 2012's Poor Moon is more of a sweeping romp on guitar and keys.

Unusually upbeat, 'Saturday’s Song' is another from HGM's 2014 LP Lateness of Dancers, a record which, while not exactly cheerful, is sharper and more determined than its predecessors. Taylor’s exquisite 'Sufferer (Love My Conquerer)' with its Walt Whitman cry of "Oh Captain" dedicated to the late Jason Molina.

As a writer, Taylor puts a lot of sweat into working out how he can craft a good song that means something to people. He brings a Gospel purity to tracks that incorporate the life he lives now in Carolina, and as far away as that would seem for anyone who lives in Britain, still manages to communicate a profound emotion.  

Noting the curfew, he and the band gather the audience to the centre of the room for an acoustic version of 'Drum'. Being encouraged to sing out the lyrics: "Take the good news and carry it away/Yes take the good news, spirit it away," is a light-hearted and joyful enough experience that it could have taken place in the north Carolina barn where Hiss recorded Lateness, whisky to hand.

This is what it is to hear Hiss Golden Messenger: an experience of sharing music with others that is rare in a city as cold as London, and so even more beautiful when it turns up.