A busy first night back playing together for Darlingside, as they’d bubbled together so that they could rehearse and then performed two gigs on the same afternoon/evening with a late Q&A session after the second gig. And here’s where that “Play Again” feature comes in so handy – it was a complete joy to live watch the first performance – 8PM our time, 3PM theirs, but the Q&A was just not going to happen at 3AM our time!
Darlingside were revealed in what looked to be their natural environment – Ghost Hit Recording, which is a studio built into an historic chapel. There’s light, and lots of wood and so many instruments – between them there’s not many instruments that Don Mitchell, Auyon Mukharji, Harris Paseltiner, and David Senft don’t play. So it’s not too much of a surprise that Auyon Mukharji starts ‘Singularity‘ bowing a mandolin that he hugs to his cheek violin style. Darlingside are not your usual harmonising folk band, they’re too clever for that.
The majority of the evening was to be dedicated to a playing from start to end of the band’s latest album ‘Fish Pond Fish‘, but they started out with a few older songs. As well as ‘Singularity’, the last album ‘Extralife‘ offered the truly gorgeous and haunting ‘Hold Your Head Up High‘ with it’s scenes of disappointments large and small and the need to overcome them and connect with life, the life symbolised by “Biting clovers in the lawn, A solitary fawn, Underground the new life thunders up and on.” Darlingside are not only clever, but they’ve gone some way to mastering poetic lyrics.
There was additional accompaniment on keyboards from Deni Hlavinka, who also added another layer of vocals, and Ben Burns on drums which filled out the sound, and was especially appropriate as Ben also drummed on ‘Fish Pond Fish‘. No evening with Darlingside would be complete without some audience interaction to spark lengthy comedic asides – with no physical audience to react against the ingenious idea had been adopted to answer questions from the live chat. If you can judge a band by the questions they get asked then “what is your favourite Latin phrase?“, “have you done much musical theatre?” and “Where did Don get his shirt….and why did the others let him?” probably gives a taster of their image – slightly nerdy perpetual students, who live together in the same house like The Monkees. That last was disabused as Auyon explained they don’t actually shop together – it would be surprising if they did as some band members have spouses and children.
The complete ‘Fish Pond Fish‘ was, of course, a dream. Stripped back, in the sense that layers of vocals couldn’t be replicated but instead the pure harmonies just served to underscore what superb arrangements all the songs have. ‘February/Stars‘ glowed with optimism even while the lyrics speak of an Earthbound weariness and a cosmic perspective that leaves us all as tiny specks of consciousness “Time will see / Every tide recede / And I’m no one if ever I was me.” Even over a video stream it causes a shiver. And ‘See You Change‘ retains every ability to articulate the shattering of illusions and the determination to keep trying to see if maybe, just maybe they may “change into something true.”
The evening closed out with a video of a dance interpretation of ‘A Light on in the Dark‘ by Enoch Grubb, which was both a surprise and another arrow of artiness from the quiver of Darlingside. It was quite the gig – and there was still the Q&A to come.
It turned out that Paxman and his ilk were not among the questioners, and the light hearted Q&A of about an hour’s length can be best characterised as lightweight. Everyone’s footwear was identified – Auyun regretted his waterproof boots as his feet had got hot. They sometimes give classes. Harris has new croc’s. More relevant perhaps was an insight into their song writing process – very slow, with music coming first usually although ‘Fish Pond Fish‘ accelerated the process through “lyrics exercises” which meant they had the words first this time around. The band confirmed that they do all wash their (own) legs in the shower one way or another, and again slightly more relevant is that the covers they use in their live sets are often a hangover of their time as a Wedding Band, showing that their overnight success was many years in the making. It was as bizarre as it sounds, but it rounded out the evening and was another way of adding that extra something to a streamed musical experience.