Manhattan Beat: Hiss Golden Messenger & More

Hiss Golden Messenger/The Bowery Ballroom/Dec. 8, 2017

Vocalist/guitarist MC Taylor grew up in Irvine, Los Angeles, where his father had been a member of a local band, the Settlers. Taylor then rocked with multi-instrumentalist Scott Hirsch in the hardcore punk band Ex-Ignota, and then the indie rock band The Court & Spark, both of which were based in San Francisco. In 2007 he moved again to study folklore at a university in Durham, NC. There he started the concept for his folk music persona, Hiss Golden Messenger, which Taylor describes as not so much a band as a musical approach. Hiss Golden Messenger’s ninth and most recent studio album, Hallelujah Anyhow, was released on Sept. 22, 2017.

Hiss Golden Messenger has no firm line-up, but at the Bowery Ballroom for a two-night series the musicians consisted of Taylor, Ryan Gustafson on guitar, Phil Cook on keyboards and harmonica, James Wallace on organ and percussion, Mike Lewis on saxophone, Skylar Gudasz on vocals, Michael Libramento on bass, and Darren Jesse on drums. Together, they provided earthy backup for Taylor’s unrefined vocal delivery, Bob Dylan-esque phrasings and bright country-rock melodies. When Taylor was not singing, much of the set’s extended instrumental breaks had a rambling, almost shoegaze feel in that the compositions breezed along on a plateau rather than climbed to a summit. This effect situated the songs in a pleasant and relaxed groove that was as comfortable as a fleece wrap. The songs that did build, however, especially towards the end of the set, were all the more invigorating because they engaged the band’s grooves into a louder and faster body. Hiss Golden Messenger has developed a new and interesting twist to homespun back porch jams.


Cody Melville/The Bowery Electric/ Dec. 11, 2017

    Cody Melville was born in Brooklyn, but during his formative years, his family moved to Detroit. He returned to Brooklyn as a young adult, but both cities played equal parts in his development as a prolific singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer. Brooklyn fed his street-savvy world view lyrics and Detroit helped him find his soulful groove. On many of his recordings, he plays the majority of the instruments and has produced his own work as well. Melville released his tenth album, Bonds Eye, on Dec. 8, 2017.

Melville celebrated the release of his newest album with a headlining performance at the Bowery Electric. From the first song, Melville demonstrated that he was a serious singer/songwriter, yet one that was gifted with a resounding rock and roll heart. His compositions were birthed as pensive prose, then given a new wind with a strong backbeat, searing guitars and rolling keyboards. Melville’s band served the repertoire well in most cases, although in a few cases early in the set the musicians tended to smother the songs by lending a bit too much boisterous energy. Melville’s vocals were passionate, with a delivery that balanced vulnerability and bravado. Thoughtful lyrics delivered like this ultimately made for a compelling performance.


Perfume Genius/The Bowery Ballroom/Dec. 11, 2017

    Mike Hadreas was born in Des Moines, Iowa, and grew up in the suburbs of Seattle, , where he was the only openly gay student at his school. He received death threats which were not addressed by the administration, and later, as a young adult, he was attacked by several young men in his neighborhood. He then moved to Brooklyn, and worked as a doorman at an East Village nightclub. In 2005, Hadreas returned home to Seattle and began recording music under the name Perfume Genius. His music explored sexuality, domestic abuse, the dangers faced by gay men in contemporary society, and his personal struggle with Crohn’s disease. Perfume Genius’ fourth and most recent album, No Shape, was released on May 5, 2017.

Headlining at the Bowery Ballroom, Perfume Genius’ performance was a curious blend of cabaret and art rock that was intriguing and even mysterious, diving quickly from shushed tones to a vast and blasting wall of sound. Often deviating from melodic expectations, Hadreas’ sweet vocal flow and the electronic backing often went in unorthodox directions. Rhythms often stopped and changed, yet except for a brief period when he sat in a chair, Hadreas hardly ever stopped pacing and dancing. Even in the chair, however, he wiggled until his chest was on his knees. Shimmering and writhing to his feather light but angst-ridden vocal delivery, he spun the vulnerability inherent in his project into a celebration of identity and defiance. Yet, even with the inclusion of a string quartet on many songs, this catalogue was essentially too personal for the mainstream but will appeal to a large underground network of music fans.


Yo La Tengo/The Bowery Ballroom/Dec. 13, 2017

Born in Queens, New York, Ira Kaplan in his 20s wrote about music for local publications and worked as a soundman, roadie and backup musician for several New York-area bands. He and drummer/pianist/vocalist Georgia Hubley formed Yo La Tengo (often abbreviated as YLT) as an indie rock band in 1984 in Hoboken, NJ. They chose the name Yo La Tengo (Spanish for “I have it” or “I have her”) in an effort to avoid any connotations in English. In its early years, the band went through 14 bassists but then stabilized with current bassist James McNew in 1992. Yo La Tengo’s fourteenth and most recent album is 2015’s Stuff Like That There.

After a five-year hiatus, Yo La Tengo revived its long-running Eight Days of Hanukkah concert series, this year at the Bowery Ballroom. Each night the opening music acts and comedians were unannounced in advance; on this, the second night, Los Straitjackets and Neil Hamburger were the support acts. Yo La Tengo opened its set with two instrumentals with Los Straitjackets, and harmonious with the luchador-masked surf rockers, the members of Yo La Tengo also wore masks for those songs. Renowned harpist Mary Lattimorealso joined the band for the entire set. The concert showed the two distinct sides of Yo La Tengo; much of the first half of the set featured hushed ambient soundscapes, often sprinkled with Hubley’s soft atmospheric vocals, and the latter half rocked with Kaplan’s sprawling feedback-driven noise jams. These extremes between dreamy and abrasive shoegaze embraced elements of pop, folk, punk and experimental music was ever eclectic, such that it made sense only in Yo La Tengo’s multi-faceted musical world. The evening was capped with the introduction of John Doe of X for the encore; Doe performed a five-song set with Yo La Tengo as his backup band.