2nd July | The Lantern
After the exhilaration of seeing Darlingside on a Sunday night, it’s frankly difficult to give a toss what happens for the rest of the week. There’ll still be moments by Friday when a work colleague tells me that really important thing, that vital thing which under no circumstances can be overlooked or forgotten, and I’ll be lost in a reverie of the soaring four-part harmony at the end of ‘Good for You’ or nodding manically to the mandolin line of their acoustic rave, ‘Harrison Ford’. If composing and playing songs is the joyous, communal celebration of a beautiful craft, then their performance to a sizeable crowd epitomised what live music is all about. On their third visit to Bristol, they were delighted to see the city from above ground for once, “We think of Bristol as subterranean; this is really shifting the paradigm”, having twice before played The Tunnels.
Harris Paseltiner, Auyon Mukharji, Don Mitchell and Dave Senft are long-standing friends who met as undergraduates in Massachusetts. That deep-seated, instinctive understanding not only translates through the tightness of their instrumentation, but it also communicates through their genial on-stage manner. Gathered around a single condenser microphone, their show sometimes has the pleasant feeling of live radio, the anecdotal drollery between songs akin to Garrison Keillor’s wry Prairie Home Companion shows. We learned of their cultural learnings of England for make benefit glorious band of Darlingside, including Harris Paseltiner’s genuine awe at the concept of flapjacks (“Wondrous oat blobs! I’ve never had anything with so much butter in – apart from eating butter”) and at how Cheddar Gorge is an actual place (“Nothing gets me going more after a long day’s recording than to gorge on cheddar”).
With frequent three or four part harmonies, there’s nowhere to hide in a Darlingside song, so it was especially noteworthy how perfect they were. The set drew from all of their releases, but predominantly from 2015’s Birds Say album, as well as reprising elements of 2012’s Pilot Machines, arranged more in the style of their recent material. Set opener ‘The God of Loss’ allowed for a tender, intense start, building throughout towards the plaintive violin line. The apologetic and appreciative ‘My Love’ gave us a highly-believable vignette of a remorseful lover, thanking his beloved for making him behave like slightly less of an arse.
Reflections on childhood, time and change were evident in ‘Fourth of July’ and ‘Whipporwill’ from their 2016 EP, with the familiar grown-up laments “When we were younger, we never got older” and “Oh, my kingdom for weekend” respectively. It’s almost like a parent trying to choose a favourite child when picking out highlights from a show like this one, but Birds Say opener ‘The Ancestor’ and the track they played live in the BBC studio at Glastonbury, ‘Go Back’ were sublimely majestic.
Support came from alt-country singer-songwriter Caitlin Canty, another undergraduate associate. As well as her stand-out songs, ‘Enough About Hard Times’ and ‘Southern Man’, she also returned during Darlingside’s set on their cover of Tom Petty’s ‘Wildflowers’, which she sang at Paseltiner’s wedding, turning him into that ‘floods of tears’ emoji back then. She also returned for the glorious five-part-harmony encore ‘Sweet and Low’. Keep an eye out for when she returns to Bristol in her own right.
The standing ovation that Darligside received after Fleet-Foxes/Byrds-like set closer ‘My Gal, My Guy’ reflected the warmth and joy that they had shared with us. It wasn’t just earned because Don Mitchell had charmed us with, “We have a Bristol in my home state. I guess it’s named after this place, except it’s terrible.”
Check out ‘Whippoorwill’ live below.