Friday 22nd November 2019
If Edgar Allan Poe ran a music venue, it would look like Omeara, converted railway arches given a deliberate ‘faded glamour’-chic, like some post-apocalyptic ballroom from ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’.
Darlingside might not be Poe’s first choice of band to book, though. Much as they can tap into the more melancholic side of the human psyche, their equal and equivalent dose of absurd and wry humour might not align with Poe’s penchant for sinister talking ravens or gratuitous cat maiming.
Friday night usually arrives with a heady mix of emotions, but these tend to be provoked by tiredness and hysteria, then further exacerbated by some form of excessive self-medication. A Darlingside Friday night in That London was the perfect antidote to the working week – intoxicating in a manner that could only hang over and enhance, not knacker the prospects of Saturday morning. There was the additional joy of discovering a fresh name in support act, Tom Joshua. He was the perfect foil; engaging, modest and witty, with songs such as ‘Magnolia’ and ‘Suckers’ lifting beauty and poetry from the everyday.
“We’re at the tail end of a tiny tour, in which we have played London and London,” announced Harris Paseltiner. Having played Cecil Sharp House near Regent’s Park the previous night, they ventured all 4.9 miles to cross South of the Thames, beneath the priapic prominence of The Shard for their second show. All the way from Boston to Gatwick. Jet lag. All the kit of a quartet of multi-instrumentalists. Setting up. Sound-checking. Playing. Packing it away again. Meeting and greeting half the crowd. Lugging and flogging boxes of merchandise. For twenty-something songs. Then home. No small undertaking. They gave us every reason to be grateful for their efforts.
At some gigs, your inner voice is screaming, ‘Just stop bloody talking and play songs.’ But you go to a Darlingside show as much for the between-song bonhomie as you do the artful compositions themselves. Radio 4 could have a programming field-day with Darlingside: imagine a weekly hour of polymath ramblings, combining music, light satire and historical musings. It would be like QI and The News Quiz, with the additional joy of outbreaks of electro-folk. Paseltiner is the urbane host, brimful of unaffected charm. Auyon Mukherji is the observational motormouth. Don Mitchell provides moments that are not just dry but aridly sardonic.
As with every good comedy troupe, they have a straight man in the form of Dave Senft. His distinctive voice in the band shines through when a distinct voice is precisely what the song dictates, as opposed to their USP two-, three- and four-part harmonies that gild almost every song. Blow The House Down showcased Senft’s crisp voice, as well as the band’s ability to do the more conventional ‘lead singer plus backing vocals’ thing damn well. Not to be upstaged, though, the other three spun the song into a perfect storm with a swathe of slide guitar, muted guitar stabs and a chaotic violin shred.
We were swept along, as they galloped through Go Back (with subsequent audience roar) and regaled us with the whimsical, highly-caffeinated tale of urban derangement, Harrison Ford. Beyond this thrill-seeking, tornado-chasing turbulence, there were moments of genuine solemnity and ‘boys really do cry’ bittersweetness. They left the stage and assembled at the heart of the crowd to play an unamplified rendition of Heart Again. At least one member of the audience shed a tear. The daunting Extralife reminded us full well that there’s an election coming. The Ancestor gave us hope again. Their encore, The God of Loss, prompted several spontaneous hugs around the room, presumably amongst people who knew each other beforehand. Again, at least one person in the room welled up significantly.
And as quickly as you could sing, “Nothing is forever; everything is soon,” it was over. Even Darth Vader would be tempted over to the Darlingside.