Let me preface this article by stating I am not a Darlingside aficionado, but this past month has led me down a path of indulging again and again in their catalog of albums. Hearing their progression and growth as a group has been fascinating to explore.
Honestly, it’s the giant perk of writing show reviews. You get to listen to full albums and trace a pilgrimage that all artists take. Pilot Machines (2012) included a drummer and more of a chamber-rock dynamic, while Bird Say (2015) saw them blossom into a baroque folk-pop group. The Extralife (2018) and Look Up & Fly Away (2019) releases solidified their ability to craft expertly arranged, richly harmonized string rock music. After seeing their Tiny Desk Concert, needless to say, I’ve been very excited to see them live.
Like a small hurricane on stage, the trio of Isa Burke, Eleanor Buckland, and Mali Obsomsawin are rooted in a swirl of sounds. Centered around a microphone, their folk/bluegrass textures blend together and provide a cone of beautiful harmonies. Lula Wiles is a force to be reckoned with.
“Independence Day” is a prime example of this force. Their performance at The Cedar instantly revealed some strong characteristics of their music. Poetic lyrics, elegant song progression, and entwined harmonies rang through the venue. Watching them drop in ‘oh’s’ like sprinkles on a cake, then frosting their harmonies into a round, each one starting at different times, eventually resolving into a single vocal at the end, was delightful.
“Good Old American Values” brought Obsomsawin to the microphone. As an Abenaki tribe descent, she explained the song was written just after the pipeline situations taking place on sacred lands. The song is a sharp critique of American pop culture’s corrupted misrepresentation of indigenous culture. Obomsawin states, “The ongoing disregard for indigenous people is currently displayed by building pipelines on sacred land and through blatant cultural appropriation. Those who speak out to protest the unjust seizing of native land are often criminalized.”
The highlight of their set was the a cappella performance of “What Will We Do“. Setting down their instruments, they told a story through 5 verses and silky harmonies. Taking turns, they asked the question of ‘what will we do?’ It’s a conversation starter that aims to disarm ignorance and break down walls. Lula Wiles’ performance did just that. Their music and stories left the audience with something to talk about.
What will we do if we have no money?
Oh, true lovers, what will we do then?
Only haul through the town for a hungry crowd
And we’ll yodel it over again
Sometime during the fun facts about Minnesota sports, coffee withdrawal confessions, relatable tour manager connections, and witty banter on muscatel Darjeeling tea, ther was a moment where Darlingside won over my heart. Hailing from Boston, the group is made up of Don Mitchell, Auyon Mukharji, Harris Paseltiner, and David Senft. They took the stage to a backdrop of lighting props that looked like fireflies, blinking and pulsing to the songs. Like musical chairs, instruments were passed around and changed throughout the entire set. Seamlessly fusing together strings and vocals, Darlingside makes every song feel important and delicate. There’s a hushed glow that surrounds the group. Yet there are elevated times when loudness and intensity growl, reminding me of Trampled By Turtles.
The first highlight came with the performance of “White Horses“, four songs into the set. The soft acoustic intro of the song led into a chorus filled with oohs and melodic voices. Beautifully transitioning with the violin, the song continued to build and pick up speed. The kick drum pounded faster and harder as Darlingside careened louder and louder. Then a clearing of serene vocals, all singing “White horses for Chicago. Black water brings me back home.” It was a brilliant ending to a song that had the room stirring with joy. This immediately led into “Hold Your Head Up High“, which continued to showcase their vocals in greater perplexity. The song balanced on a wall of vocals and this thin violin part that cut through the room.
Moving to the center of the audience, Darlingside then performed an acoustic version of “Heart Again“. Without microphones, the group serenaded the silent audience. Moments like this bring a crowd closer. You witness something unique and not on a recorded album and a room of 200 people shrinks. Darlingside executed this perfectly.
To another sight of the Earth entire
To the living trees standing in the fire
We amass and split, we grow old and sick
And I try to get back to the heart again
Then, from a moment of intimacy came community. Lula Wiles joined them on stage to perform “Paradise Bay” for the first time ever. Gathering around one microphone, they took turns leaning and stepping forward to self blend and mix themselves.
After covering Neil Young’s “Red Sun” a cappella, Darlingside finished with three strong selections. “Blow the House Down” saw a surprise moment with their tour manager jumping on stage for a heavy electric solo at the end. One of their strongest songs, “The God of Loss,” came next. The lush layering and vocal presence in this song alone are the core elements that propel them above anyone else. The encore saw a fast-paced “Best of the Best of Times” with a gritty synth pad string along the multi-part vocals.
As I’ve stated, I am not a Darlingside aficionado. I can now say that after seeing them at The Cedar Cultural Center, I’m a glorified fan.
- Go Back
- White Horses
- Hold Your Head Up High
- Heart Again (acoustic in crowd)
- Paradise Bay (with Lula Wiles)
- The Ancestor
- Harrison Ford
- Bright as the Day
- My Gal, My Guy
- Red Sun (Neil Young cover)
- Blow the House Down
- The God of Loss
- ENCORE– Best of the Best of Times