Before his recent early show at the 9:30 Club, MC Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger visited the Dischord House. Located just across the Potomac from DC in Arlington, the house has, since 1981, been the headquarters of Dischord Records, the small, independent DC punk label co-founded by Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat, and, later, Fugazi.
“I wouldn’t be playing music if it wasn’t for the music that comes from this place,” MC said at 9:30 Club. “I don’t get starstruck easily.” But he was star struck when he met Mackaye.
The influence of punk might not be entirely evident if you heard Taylor’s music. Heavily influenced by the Grateful Dead, HGM plays Americana in their jam band style. But like a lot of artists, including those whose work doesn’t sound much like punk, almost everyone who came after has wrestled with its legacy.
A native of California, Taylor started out playing in punk bands, before fronting the Court and Spark for several years. HGM was born after Taylor moved to North Carolina to study folklore. Initially, his releases were solo, lo-fi recordings, some even made in his kitchen. But the project grew into a fuller, more produced sound, to the point where it’s now a five piece band, with two guitars, bass, keys, and drums in their live set up.
Earlier this year, HGM released their latest record, Jump for Joy. As the title suggests, it’s an upbeat, vibrant album, at times even a bit whimsical. There’s the unbridled joy of the title cut, which closed the main set. “Nu-Grape” is about a drink which, as I understand is popular in the South — I’ll take his word for it. Introducing the song, he told the audience, “I’m not selling out, I’m buying in, as the great Swamp Dogg once said.” He added, “I’ve been trying to sell out.” Me too, brother!
Stream Jump for Joy by Hiss Golden Messenger on Spotify.
MC didn’t say a lot, but he did joke about having us in bed by 11pm. He said he knows his crowds, which skew a bit older and, speaking for myself, it’s good to be in bed at a reasonable hour.
The downside of this was that doors opened at 6pm, and opening act Sylvie had to take the stage before 6:30pm, and few people had made it to the venue at the point. A trio, Sylvie consists of two guys who play guitar and sing, and a female vocalist. The first song of theirs I caught was “Further Down the Road.” Their set included two covers: Fred Neil’s “Dolphins” and the Beatles’ “Blackbird.” They shared that, after this tour with HGM, they’d headed over to Australia. They closed their set with “Stealin’ Time.”
We got HGM relatively fresh — it was just the second night of their tour. Their playing was as sharp as I’ve heard them, and they got the audience involved, especially on their encore, which became a sing-along. It was a fun evening, and, best of all, I was home and asleep by 11pm, as Taylor promised.