Only the occasional faint clanging of the bar can be overheard whilst Darlingside play. The audience are fittingly pin drop silent to embrace all the intricacies the band offer. Huddled up shoulder tight to harmonize around a single vintage condenser microphone, the result is quite magnificent. Over the course of the evening, banjos, fiddles and upright bass are swapped by this multi instrumentalist Boston four piece and whilst that all may sound – so far – so bluegrass – this they are not. As evidence there’s the second song of the night, ‘Eschalton’, aided by loops and notes via a small keyboard sequencer plus some Peter Hook like Rickenbacker bass riffs. There’s more than a sprinkling in the set of their 2018 LP ‘Extralife’. A perhaps more brooding affair than previous releases which they explain as some of the album being written whilst on recent UK visits as they were looking back toward their homeland. “It’s over now, the flag is sunk, the world has flattened out” they sing on ‘Extralife’. Then there’s “Tomorrow’s beginning to take, an equal and opposite shape” from ‘Orion,’ performed whilst a simple spinning mirror ball works a perfect sky gazing ambience. For the stillness of ‘Hold Your Head Up High’ even the dry ice appears to hang onstage without movement.
The gig is far from a gloomy affair though. Songs are interspersed with comedic regaling of the daily breakfast band meeting and prior gig misinterpretations of thinking (perhaps hoping) they were playing the Shepherds Empire Bush. Things are a little more baroque pop on ‘My Gal, My Guy‘ and the quirkily nerdy ‘Harrison Ford’ from the 2015 ‘Birds Say’ album. As the show moves towards its close, support act Wildwood Kin are invited to the stage for a seven-part harmony on ‘Blow The House Down’ – it’s wonderful stuff. “We’re a long way, long way from the best of the best of times” they sing leading into the ‘Best Of The Best Of Times’ encore. Perhaps so, but not this evening.
Prior to the shows finale is a fine acapella rendition of Neil Young’s ‘Red Sun’. Comparisons can be unsurprisingly drawn with CSN&Y here but for any vocal harmony fans still pinning hopes on the ever cantankerous & increasingly bickering Crosby and co to resolve things for one last un-harmonious harmonizing blast – they’d be far better to focus their attentions on Darlingside.
Support came from the Devonshire trio (two sisters and a cousin) Wildwood Kin. Whilst music shouldn’t need be categorized, it’s a little tough to put a fine point on their sound. Perhaps a little too Pagan for Americana, a little too pop for the true folk folkies and far too twisted for pop. They announce a new ‘Voices Of Equilibrium’ covers EP from which they play a fine version of ‘Higher Ground’ with a nod to the delta blues. It’s on their own rhythmically thumping ‘Steady My Hand‘ where the band really shine though. They proudly proclaim that their favourite review cast them as, “Pleasantly awkward.” It’s pleasantly non bracket-able for sure. I mustered an image of Wilson Phillips playing the Wicker Man ceremony. I hope they similarly see that as a good thing.