Concert Review: Darlingside @ The Egg, 03/09/2023
THREE FOR THREE
Darlingside was sentimental at Universal Preservation Hall in Saratoga Springs in early November, their last quartet show with departing bassist-singer-drummer Dave Senft. Two weeks later, they seemed surprisingly relaxed and confident at Northampton’s Parlor Room with two new members, hanging out in a low-key hometown pre-show celebration backstage with friends and family.
Thursday at The Egg’s Swyer Theatre, the chamber/jazz-folk quintet was even better; their sound honed, their nearly 100-minute show spiced with new tunes for an album due this summer.
They even handed out bags of warm tortillas to bemused happy fans headed to the elevators and filing out into the cold.
Who else does that?
A lyric in their opener, “Green + Evergreen,” notes things “change, and change again,” but the band has seemingly solidified the changes introduced in Northampton, showing a calm resiliency that felt, as usual, warmly engaging.
They included their newcomers in their familiar instrument swapping. Molly Parden handed off her red electric bass to guitarist-banjoist Don Mitchell for “Best of the Best of Times,” a late-set rocker; drummer Ben Burns borrowed Mitchell’s banjo for “The Ancestor” and at times shared a six-string acoustic guitar with violinist/mandolin player Auyon Mukharji. Harris Paseltiner played acoustic guitar far more than cello.
Burns sang less than the four up front, his full drum kit (versus Senft’s lone small kick-drum) clattering out a thicker, more folk-rock bottom end, and his beats always fit the songs. While Burns’s off-at-the-edge stage position in Northampton hinted a bit uncomfortably at afterthought, his kit sat center stage at The Egg and in the middle of Darlingside’s sound.
Also, in Northampton, the four stringed-things players all sang at a single microphone, center stage, a move maybe forced by the Parlor Room’s small stage. At The Egg Thursday, each sang at a separate mic, except for “Heart Again,” a trio number at stage left. Mitchell, Paseltiner, and Mukharji expertly balanced their voices by moving toward and back from a single mic. When Parden and Burns rejoined the founding trio for the new “Breaking of the Day,” all five stood close and sang the same tight way.
“Green + Evergreen” opened with a quiet intro, a surge aboard a contained rock beat, then relaxed and re-surged in cycles, a waveform that shaped many songs and the show overall. While their voices shared a fairly common range, their instrumentals built interesting dynamics with sometimes abrupt shifts.
They next grew the slower “Hold Your Head Up High” from a cool, calm start to something bigger, more muscular, but simmered down into a quiet coda of linked voices and understated guitars.
They sprinkled new songs discretely into the flow, and they earned their welcome with familiar Darlingside charm. “Time Will Be” launched from a sturdy platform of Mitchell’s electric 12-string and Parden’s bass, gained altitude with harmony vocals, then Mukharji’s violin solo – one of few – a similarly rare solo vocal by Paseltiner as Mukharji retrieved a flat-pick stashed in the strings of his mandolin to pluck his violin strings with it before they distilled the tune back to its intro, as the coda.
Mitchell’s 12-string and Mukharji’s mandolin decorated “Go Back,” a bustling riff-song whose energy nicely set up the alternately driving and serene “White Horses,” an early crowd-pleasing one-two punch.
Before introducing the new “Darkening Hour,” Paseltiner spoke reverently of the joy of playing live again after the pandemic postponed tours and canceled individual shows, including one set for Caffe Lena. Another new song followed; “Right Friend,” a vigorous stop-and-go number in waltz time with a hummed chorus, wave-form architecture, and mid-slow tempo.
Next, of course, came the older “Old Friend,” completing, as the intro clarified, the “friends portion of the show” before a playful digression about Venn diagrams. This chatty bit set up Mukharji’s typically droll band intros, wrapped in a commercial for their former Hadley landlords’ new Mi Tierra Tortillas.
Back to business: The new “Green Light” wished the listener all good things, a song-cousin to NRBQ’s “Green Lights” – a live favorite of Bonnie Raitt, but I digress. A lively, lovely uptempo tune, this was Darlingside at its most emotionally accessible and open, a joy.
Burns did double duty in “The Ancestor,” playing banjo while thumping his kick-drum, another push-and-release number with “oooo” chorus and a tasty violin break.
Then, back to irony: “Harrison Ford,” a zippy, staccato show-biz saga, busy with tempo changes, a short instrumental break out, and baroque-sounding harmonies.
Next came the one-mic acoustic bit noted above, the three originals harmonizing first on “Heart Again,” then the whole quintet singing “Breaking of the Day,” all at one mic. (Will Richard Thompson sing “Dimming of the Day” at The Egg in May? But I digress again.)
They built things back up; the jittery energy of “Best of the Best of Times” carried on driving mandolin solos.
The new medium-slow “Eliza” rode a stop-and-go cadence, Mitchell’s banjo linking with Mukharji’s mandolin over a four-square march beat from Burns.
“Ocean Bed” from their last release, “Fish Pond Fish,” also got plenty of rhythmic push by Burns, a mid-tempo rocker with “oooo” chorus.
Off they went then, as everyone rose, yelling for more, and got it.
The majestic “God of Loss” encore closed with a violin solo, a tortilla commercial, and the hope of a return after their new album hits in July. They mused that Thursday’s show was their sixth, or so at The Egg; it was the third I’ve seen since early November, and many in the two-thirds-full Swyer Theatre were clearly repeat customers.
They have managed to create a community feeling through their music, appropriate for this elegantly polished ensemble that’s all about unity. While everyone but Burns got brief solo vocals, Darlingside is a harmony enterprise.
Hat’s off to front-of-house engineer Nick Gunty for pristine sound that showcased that harmony throughout. Nick also supplied me with the setlist.
For the restless cleverness of their writing, engaging charm, and precision playing and singing that unerringly sidesteps the merely pretty for a more mature beauty, Darlingside remains a band to love.
Who else hands out still-warm bags of tortillas after their shows?
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