Concert Review: Darlingside / Caitlyn Canty @ Universal Preservation Hall, Saratoga, 11/3/2022
Indie folk favorites Darlingside played their last concert as a quartet with original members on Thursday night at UPH, simultaneously breaking my heart and soothing it with a longer-than-usual set of all original music. It was Dave Senft’s last night with the band as he no longer plans tour, and the anticipatory melancholy associated with loss was heavy in the air.
Opener and friend of the band Caitlyn Canty took the stage first, and with a smile and sigh, she turned to her guitar with intimacy before singing her poetic lyrics. The musician knew the gentlemen from Darlingside since their days together at Williams College, which is truly in Nippertown’s front yard in North Adams. She sheepishly shared knowing them “from being a wedding band together,” and joked before breaking into a clear timber. Highlights of her individual set included the song “Where is the Heart of My Country Now,” an original tune she wrote while reading a Woodie Guthrie book, and “watching too much news.”
Canty’s vocal range was impressive, and her lyrics reflect a lot of personal insight about her own internal life. My favorite lyric of the entire night was when she sang about transitions in honor of Senft’s planned respite, smiling with the words “moonlight is nothing but the memory of a sunny day.”
Prior to taking the stage, Darlingside’s Harris Paseltiner came out to set up the instruments and tune. Watching his smile as he greeted the crowd, I was struck that he was both humble and incredibly sunny in his personality. Harris is the band’s cellist, and he admits he began his training in instrumentation rather than vocals. The youngest band member, he seemed so self-possessed on the stage. It was fun to watch him set up prior to their set as he was both focused on his task and able to enjoy those waving to him while he worked.
The whole band took the stage for the final time and the bittersweet vibe that was always there with Darlingside for me was even more apparent than usual. The band played favorites, including “Go Back” and “White Horses,” but there were greater artistic pauses, savoring the silence between the lush vocal harmonies as if to allow us to savor them longer.
Band member chatter while tuning is a signature move for this group, and they couldn’t help but reminisce about their happy days together. Don Mitchell shared his fond memory of their triumphant return to Caffe Lena post-COVID, only to come down with COVID-19 and shortly after Lyme Disease. “So I had Corona with Lyme,” he wryly smiled.
This concert was in fact rescheduled from an earlier date this fall due to another band member’s experience with COVID as well, which prompted some jokes about the hazards of their playing in Saratoga. They recalled their streamed concert from Senft’s family’s nearby cottage, the subject of my favorite song “Whippoorwill.” They teased about their own mistakes, including Sendt’s super gluing his fingers together before this final gig.
And between all the teasing, the genuine connection between them was apparent. So was the stress of some of their past conflicts, but it appeared to be mostly love that was shining through. Rejoined by Canty, whom they called “Madame Darlingside,” the quartet briefly became a quintet with higher range and some (even) fuller sound, if it could be believed. She smiled non-stop, allowing no space for doubts about her joy in rejoining her college friends.
The band’s precision and perfectly polished sound are a trademark, and the pleasing harmonies made a beautiful sound in the church. Paseltiner reflected on this repeatedly, and his ear wasn’t wrong: the church was made for harmonies and strings to shine. Their controlled tempos and dynamic vocals made for dramatic and soothing sounds that my soul has been seeking, especially since the loss of my father. I find their music like a favorite quilt; the lyrics are beautifully varied, sounds polished and soft, and heavy enough to offer comfort.
During the band introductions, members took the opportunity to tell about their experiences with Senft over the past 14+ years together. Paseltiner thanked Senft for encouraging him to sing after recalling his hesitation to explore vocals, resulting in a bit of authentic tearfulness. Mitchell recalled Senft’s “trailblazing,” and appreciated his vocal parts that he is now trying to learn. “I realized I was the icing before, and he was the cake; you can’t really enjoy icing without the cake.” Mukharji, the violinist, owned that Senft has been responsible for “my personal growth,” forcing him to shift his thought patterns and aim higher than simply getting the job done. Band members embraced after each sharing of appreciation.
Mitchell sat out for a new song where Senft beautifully sang about letting the outside in, marrying Mitchell’s free writing with Paseltiner’s old melody. Senft, while thankful for the opportunity to take a break and “deeply indebted to my bandmates for my very identity,” sang about his hope that was still guarded by fear in the original lyrics that relied heavily on natural images to communicate its meaning.
The band closed with their well-loved “God of Loss” before leaving the stage and then returning for their encore of “Birds Say.” The set list demonstrated a great variety of styles within the set, from mellow beauty to carefully crafted moments of dissonance. Band members made a half-moon on the stage, crooning together in kind friendship and companionship.
The trio of those who remain are now joined by new musicians for their current tour. And while I look forward to greeting the new members, and I highly respect Senft’s ability to express and take “a rest,” I’m somewhat stalled in my grief. Darlingside is pure magic for me, transporting me away from the stress of the day with thoughtful images and gorgeous sounds that bring me peace. I am hoping this rest will bring Senft much-needed peace, and then him back on stage as a fourth voice in their quartet sometime soon.