Hiss Golden Messenger Brings Their Jump for Joy Tour to Milwaukee
An enthusiastic Milwaukee crowd warmly welcomed Durham, North Carolina band, Hiss Golden Messenger, to the iconic Turner Hall on an early November night as the band continued its tour supporting their newest release, Jump for Joy.
Grammy-nominated Hiss Golden Messenger is the creation of singer-songwriter Michael Carrington “M.C.” Taylor and his long-time collaborator, Scott Hirsch. Current touring members of the band include Taylor, Chris Boerner on guitar, Alex Bingham on bass, Nick Falk on drums, and Sam Fribush on keyboards.
Behind the creative talent of M.C. Taylor, Hiss Golden Messenger has been quite prolific over the past several years with the release of six studio albums since 2017. Jump for Joy is their newest release, having debuted in August 2023.
To start the set, the band launched into “Jaw,” one of the soul-filled entries from the 2017 album, Hallelujah Anyhow, introducing the crowd to Taylor’s husky vocals and gentle grooves.
The early songs in the setlist felt like warm-ups for the band. The tempo definitely picked up with “Standing in the Doorway.”
At a seemingly serious point between songs, M.C. Taylor admitted that he had a serious addiction—to the candy Nerds. He admitted finding clumps of Nerds in odd places, such as his hat, his pockets and pick case—which he thinks were planted by band mates. Pulling a clump out of his pocket, he promptly popped it in his mouth.
“Ás the Crow Flies” started out with a bit of a rap vibe, as Taylor seemingly whispered the lyrics leading up to the bouncy chorus. But the song led to quite a surprise as the band transitioned into an energetic interpretation of Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken.” With a wide smile on his face, M.C. Taylor said that you “just can’t not stick that song in there once in a while!”
At one point during the set, Taylor commented that he quite liked the setlist. He then asked for the audience’s reaction, to which he received quite an enthusiastic response.
Interestingly, the setlist did not include any songs from Hiss Golden Messenger’s 2021 release, Quietly Blowing It. That album, written in the early pandemic days of March to June 2020, has been described as reflecting the “broken American moment,” as well as a particularly dark time for M.C. Taylor. As he relayed in an interview for Rolling Stone, if all of his music came out like that, he might not be able to continue following that path.
Mid-set, beginning with “Jesus is Bored,” the band began playing songs from Jump for Joy. Emblematic of the title, Jump for Joy reflects a playful and joyful side of M.C. Taylor. That playful and humorous side clearly became evident during the show, even included in Taylor’s commentary between songs.
At one point, Taylor reflected on his over-25 year career, recounting his early days driving 30,000 miles for a tour in an old Chevy van!
The band has been described as “alternative country” and “country rock.” Perhaps these labels are generic enough to reflect all of the music styles encompassed within Hiss Golden Messenger’s music. With influences of rock, bluegrass, R&B, funk, and pop, Hiss Golden Messenger defies being pigeonholed. At times the music included extended jams that touched on ethereal and mystical notes–almost sweeping one away into a contemplative state. At other times, the music was playful and buoyant, particularly with the songs from Jump for Joy.
There’s a distinct reason for the boisterousness of Jump for Joy, as the album reflects M.C. Taylor’s current mind. The band’s releases since about 2015 have reflected on the inherent conflict and challenge of a touring performer leaving his family and young children for a life on the road. Emblematic of this inner conflict was “Say It Like You Mean It,”—“Now I know what you say / It’s a mean old world / I’ve seen it, it all seems like a game.”
Circa 2023 and Taylor’s children are older and perhaps better able to endure his time on the road. As he’s said in interviews, it’s never easy to leave his family and it’s a challenge to return to home life and the patterns that may have developed in his absence. Nevertheless, as evidenced by the lightness of Jump for Joy, the inner angst and guilt appear to have dissipated, at least a bit. For Taylor, it seems the creation of music is more joyful.
While Hiss Golden Messenger may largely be the alter ego of M.C. Taylor, it would be unfair to discount the efforts of his touring band, all of whom appeared on Jump for Joy. At many times during the set, the individual band members demonstrated their chops with solos with a smiling and obviously appreciative Taylor looking on. Guitarist Chris Boerner frequently took off with his solos as well as playing closely with Taylor by his side—each glancing at each other and drawing inspiration from their collaboration. Sam Fribush often showed his wizardry on his three keyboards.
If you had to label the entire set, it might be something like approaching a comfortable boogie, which many members of the audience did dancing around among the standing crowd.
Hiss Golden Messenger’s “Nu-Grape” was just downright fun and funky, poking holes in conventions and hypocrisy.
After “Nu-Grape,” Taylor commented that Thursdays are considered “Little Fridays” where he came from. He then asked how many teachers were in the audience (several) and how many would be skipping school on the following day (none). Taylor then dedicated the next song to all the teachers in the audience—appropriately named “I Need a Teacher.”
Taylor’s rock style came through on “Feeling Eternal,” leading off with aggressive guitar licks.
The band’s encore began with “Caledonia, My Love,” which started off with a lovely Sam Fribush piano solo that transitioned into M.C. Taylor’s wistful ballad.
Next up was the title track, “Jump for Joy,” which also brought remembrances of Little Feat’s New Orleans’ limber polyrhythms.
Hiss Golden Messenger finished off the encore with “California King.”
An enduring memory for me of Hiss Golden Messenger’s performance is my new favorite catchphrase “I’m just a nail in the house of the universe!”
LA-based Sylvie, opened the show. Led by singer-songwriter and guitarist, Ben Shapiro, Sylvie’s set was filled with lush vocals and harmonies. Joining Ben on this tour were Laura Jean Anderson on vocals, and Keven Louis Lareau on guitar and providing supporting vocals. All three are accomplished musicians with extensive involvement in personal projects and other bands.
The soft mellow sounds were refreshing and reminiscent of an earlier, seemingly less frenetic age. Sylvie’s music has been described as a reinvigoration of the 1970’s era, Laurel Canyon-style of music from artists such as Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Jackson Browne, and James Taylor. Sylvie’s songs, such as “Further Down the Road,” reinforced this comparison.
Sylvie’s songs are poignant and self-reflective. “Falls on Me,” for instance, evinces the hope of finding true love while stealing one’s self against further heart break. The lyrics “Someone’s gonna take my heart/No one’s gonna break my heart again” instantly transported me to the work of another former Laurel Canyon resident, Graham Nash, and his song “I Used to Be a King” from his solo album, Songs for Beginners.
Each song represented the band’s original work, with many of the songs from the band’s self-titled EP, Sylvie, released late in 2021, as well as newer songs.
The band did conclude their set with a sweet interpretation of “Blackbird” by the Beatles, complete with Laura Jean Anderson’s whistling accompaniment.
Based on the reception the band received from the audience, a return to Milwaukee by Sylvie would be quite welcome!
Hiss Golden Messenger will be touring through the end of the year. Check out the band’s remaining tour dates and additional band news by visiting their website. https://www.hissgoldenmessenger.com
It’s a little more challenging keeping up with Sylvie! The best advice is to follow Ben Shapiro on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/sylvie_music_/
Hiss Golden Messenger
Turner Hall – Milwaukee 11/2/2023
Standing in the Doorway
As the Crow Flies
Dixie Chicken (Lowell George/Little Feat cover)
Say It Like You Mean It
Jesus is Bored
I Need a Teacher
Bright Direction (You’re a Dark Star Now)
Caledonia, My Love
Jump for Joy