Thursday, September 5, 2013

Update: MusicfestNW Day One (Hiss Golden Messenger)

So here we are in beautiful Portland Oregon where the annual MusicfestNW is in full swing.  Think of it as a boutique SXSW -- 17 or so venues, 4-5 bands each per night, manageable crowds and lines.

I won't cover everything I see but will instead focus a bit on those acts that were most impressive. And Wednesday night that was certainly Hiss Golden Messenger from Durham NC. Traveling solo without his usual band lineup, Mr. Messenger, if we can call him that, made his first Portland appearance since 2006, with the challenging task of facing a large sit-down theater audience waiting to see Justin Townes Earle in the next slot. I'd been hearing good things about Hiss Golden Messenger for some time from people I trust, but was blown away by both his singing and writing.

I suppose his work falls into the realm of folk or singer-songwriter music, but it's tougher and far more soulful than that label might imply. He is a terrific and ambitious writer, and won me over immediately when he cited Wendell Berry as a hero. Aim high brother! And you could hear a pin drop in the 2-level theater from note one until the end of his set as he had the audience in the palm of his hand with his compelling tales of family, adulthood, and well, life.

Hiss Golden Messenger also referred to WYMA favorite Jason Molina as a friend and inspiration, which makes sense. Fans of Electric Magnolia Co should check this guy out. He said he wrote this song "Sufferer" before Molina's death but it always reminds him of his friend. Here's a solo clip of "Sufferer" much like I heard Wednesday night:

Amazing voice, could have listened to much more than his (Hiss, ha) tremendous 40 minute set (disadvantge of these showcase events).

The other highlight was WYMA fovorites The Baseball Project who we've covered extensively (here)in the past.  Baseball, jangle rock, wit and this kind of exuberant fun? Sign us up for more please. Steve Wynn and Scott McCaughey now have an addition to their all-star lineup -- Mike Mills from R.E.M., on bass. Mills kicks up the talent level yet another notch. One particular highlight was when Mills took lead vocals on a fine new pop-punk song he wrote urging Dale Murphy's entry into the Hall of Fame.

And Linda Pitmon is our favorite drummer. Ever. From anywhere.

The band previewed various other new songs they'd just finished recording in Portland for their upcoming 3rd CD. It all sounded great, another highlight being a new one about the challenge of being Bernie Williams all alone out there in center field at Yankee Stadium amidst the monuments to some of the greatest players ever to play the game.

I will say The Baseball Project draws some  interesting fans, including one guy in a full Detroit Tigers uniform with the name  Leyland (manager Jim) on the back, and complete with fake moustache. He kept yelling for a new song about various Tigers greats - Hank Greenberg, Al Kaline etc. This was not me, I swear. Though I was happy when they played "1976". Here's a 2012 live recording:

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