Live Review – Darlingside at The Courtyard Theatre

The Bostonian quartet Darlingside cast a spell over the crowded basement of the Courtyard Theatre in Shoreditch. Every element of their performance contributed to this, from the charming, funny patter between songs to the use of one old-school microphone in the middle, around which they all crowded. From the beginning, the audience was treated to a wonderful flurry of stringed instruments, changing hands and changing tunings between every song. As they progressed through their set, electric guitars, a bass, cello, banjo, mandolin (and even one or two synthesizer keyboard towards the end) started appearing.

Darlingside’s reflective sound is clearly steeped in the American folk tradition, but avoids sounding like country music. The instrumentation and performance style were a testament to this, as were the beautifully synchronized four-part vocal harmonies, weaving an energetic nostalgia. The dominating use of stringed instruments also conjured up a feeling of wandering in the woods, and in combination with the close harmonies of the breathy, almost chanted singing, the music took the audience back in time.

Other elements of Darlingside’s playing, however, were certainly forward-facing. In Go Back, they sung about time travel, and more than once (such as in Eschaton) they dealt with the apocalypse. These touches of futurism extended beyond the lyrical and thematic content, however, and there was the occasional use of electronic instruments. These were used to create looped, arpeggiated figures that lay at the bottom of the otherwise wholly acoustic sound, very much in the manner of Bon Iver.

This contrast of old and new was formed gracefully, and the resultant ‘future folk’ sounded at the same time hopeful and nostalgic, always poetic, gentle and loving. In fact, there was a carefree yet kindhearted feeling to the music, which matched the happy mood of the highly talented musicians, obviously doing what was so right for them. This was clear in White Horses, where there was no distinguishable change from the tuning of the instruments to the start of the song: it just unfolded naturally.

Another impressive contrast was that of the musical textures within individual songs. The dynamics fluctuated with ease, and the four members of Darlingside lightly jumped between fully-involved instrumentation and almost completely stripped-back playing (as in Whippoorwill).

Overall this concert was a huge success, and the energetic, wholly unified performance of Darlingside earned them a warm and appreciative applause at the end.

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