SXSW: Darlingside at Davey’s Uptown

I will admit that I had a moment of concern as I walked into Davey’s Uptown on Tuesday night and thought, “Now here is a group of upstanding citizens.”  At the ripe old age of 27, it is rare that I ever think walking into a venue, “Am I the youngest person in here?”  I suppose there is a first time for everything.  The typically rough-around-the-edges Davey’s was populated largely with an over 35 year old crowd, many of whom were sporting the band’s tee shirt proudly and without shame.  Had I somehow stumbled upon a local high school band whose only fan base was their family and supportive church congregation?  Determined not to stereotype, I resisted the urge to flee.

As Darlingside took the stage and the first notes of the drum-heavy and playfully dissonant “Malea” were played, all thoughts of running away thankfully escaped me.  It was instantly apparent that this was a band that commanded my attention.  The Massachusetts based string quintet was comprised of instruments ranging from the traditional (bass, drums, guitars) to the unconventional (mandolin, cello, violin).  The band members change instruments like Gaga changes costumes.  Influenced equally by country, rock, Celtic, and classical traditions, they seem resistant of the indie-folk label that they will inevitably be given.  This dabbling in styles may ultimately be one of their greatest strengths as well as a weakness.  The band moved between musical genres so readily that it could easily be construed as uneven.  I, however, embraced it.  These guys seem interested in making good music, not in creating a specific sound.

All talented musicians in their own right, it was Darlingside‘s cohesiveness that inevitably set them apart from the rest.  The bass and guitar did, admittedly, get lost behind the more eccentric instruments; however, both Don Mitchell and David Senft did add a fullness to their sound that probably wouldn’t have existed without them.  Sam Kapala (drums) held the band together with a steady beat throughout, while still managing to slip in a little fancy drum work occasionally when no one was looking.  It was obvious though that Harris Paseltiner (cello) and Auyon Mukharji (mandolin, violin) were truly the stars of the show.  The addition of these strings bring a dynamic and sound to the band that can’t be created otherwise.  A lot of the unusual directions that the band goes musically are due to added depth that is found in these instruments.  It doesn’t hurt that both played with a gusto that is rarely seen from even traditional orchestral musicians.  These guys rocked my proverbial socks off.

If their eclectic, string arrangements weren’t enough, all of these boys can sing as well.  Lead vocalist, David Senft, would be more than enough for the average band with his pristine, buttery tone; but there is a heavy emphasis on vocals throughout.  It came as no surprise to me that the majority of the band bonded through a college a cappella group.  Their rich, smooth, five-piece harmonization consistently impressed.  Their layered vocals atop the rich melodies found in their interesting arrangements left me wanting more.  I will definitely be checking out their album that is slanted to be released later on this year.

Not only are they talented musicians, but they put on one hell of a show, to boot.  The veracity that went into every moment they were on stage was felt throughout.  Their interactions with one another as well as the audience kept the show light and enthusiastic.  It’s rare to see an indie-folk (see, I’m already labeling them) band with this much energy.  It was apparent that they were doing what they loved and the audience definitely loved them doing it.

A shout-out deservedly needs to go to Kansas City native, Mukharji.  In particular, he played with a fervor and passion that isn’t easily describable.  In suspenders and double pleated trousers, one wouldn’t expect such vivacity to radiate from this multi-instrumentalist, but his energy on stage filled the entire venue.  It probably didn’t hurt that the majority of the 35+ crowd was presumably there for him.  Regardless, his zeal was impossible to ignore.

By the end of the show, it was apparent that my theory regarding this audience was flawed.  Sure, this was an older crowd, but it was certainly not a boring one.  Also, it was certainly not a church social.  Maybe it’s a true testament to the talent of Darlingside, but regardless of age, every single person in the audience seemed to be rocking out.  Everyone knows that you should never judge a book by it’s cover.  Maybe a band should never be judged by it’s audience as well.

Darlingside is played not one, but four shows at SXSW (South by Southwest) this year.  If you were lucky enough to be in Austin for the festival, Darlingside was definitely worth checking out.

By Erin Tuttle

Photos By Becca Armstrong

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