Darlingside Rides the Camel, Brings Down the House
Darlingside’s members hover loosely around a copper-colored disk poised mid-air center stage with their instruments in hand and voices ready for take-off. Once in the air, they become downright cinematic, as their work has been described. That cinematic quality was in evidence at the band’s performance this week at the Camel in Richmond, VA. One could sit in the audience, and, if you closed your eyes, you might watch a movie unfold, one with dramatic plots and lush and diverse settings. All the while, you’d be enjoying some of the richest harmonies this side of the angels.
The opening notes of their first song yanked my emotional chains as I immediately recognized my favorite, The God of Loss, their mesmerizing and emotionally charged signature piece. Bass (etc.) player Dave Senft told me later that the band begins every show with that song, but I’m caught ajar thinking they would build to that as a peak of concert momentum.
They ended their show later, as Dave said they always do, with my other favorite, Blow the House Down, another appropriately climactic song.
The music’s cinematic quality is in part due to the storytelling that goes into some of their collaboratively crafted songs. It is also because of the canvas, as Senft called it, that the co-writers use lyrically “to communicate (their) ideas and feelings.” And, it is in part achieved through the emotional landscape created. It is music that like any good movie varies as it goes – be that slow or fast, somber or humorous, fast or slow, with percussion or strings.
Their percussion comes from a bass drum Dave strikes using his foot while playing bass or guitar with his hands. When Darlingside’s drummer left the band amicably in its early stages, they decided not to replace him, but instead they changed their sound.
Their sound is so integrated, it is as if the vocals come from different parts of the same body. The effect is enhanced further in watching the live show as the audience watches the players standing as one around the single mic. The songs, with the band’s clear diction making content clear, are then mobilized in the listener’s inner realm of cognition and feeling.
In performance, the D-siders are intense – concentrated and concentrating, looking out while looking in, burning with intensity. There is only occasionally also the slightest light of mirth in the eyes or on the lips, as when they start a passage of “woop, woop, woop”s in backing a lyric or at humorous passages of songs like “Harrison Ford.” Most often the smile would be from guitar/banjo (etc.) player Don Mitchell or Auyon Makharji on cello and violin (etc.). It’s seldom Dave, who tends to smolder, or Harris Paseltiner, guitar (etc.)
Don even flashed at me (I think) a smile and brief, bent-fingers wave acknowledging my response to songs I love before they’d really begun. I was bowled-over and charmed, but no one else noticed. The integrity of the stage was kept!
Two things occurred to me that night as I watched the show:
One – The group often throws philosophical observations out into the cosmos. With them, it’s not just “I love you darling, but you left me!” With each song, these guys are saying something.
Two – They have a thing about horses, something that you’ll see in their song titles and lyrics.
As they sing of horses and philosophy on stage, the volume and energy of each song raises and lowers harmonically and in rhythmic flow.
The performance was part of their Spring Tour they are making with the redoubtable David Wax, a local favorite from Charlottesville, VA, and his David Wax Museum, and with Haroula Rose opening. David, trim and resplendent in his white jeans and sleeveless T, a blue kerchief tied round his neck, shared the stage with his lovely wife Suz Slezak, looking, to use a cliché, like she’d – literally – been poured into her sleek black outfit.
The longer and better established band, they are the tour headliner and gave an exceptional performance. I’m not sure anyone can put more energy into a show than David does, and Suz does an admirable job of keeping up with him.
They both play a range of instruments, from accordion to piano, with the most exotic being the jawbones that Suz plays. This diversity comes in large part from the time David immersed himself in Mexican culture while a Harvard student. Their songs often reflect that influence. They are touring with an excellent backing band as well as their very young daughter.
Haroula Rose, coming from her current home in LA, opened the show with some lovely songs enhanced by an equally lovely voice and her young and charming persona.
All the performers returned at the close of the show, leaving the stage and joining the audience that was by now standing at David’s request, to sing two beautiful and quietly moving songs, the last a gospel number.
The tour will take a short break while The David Wax Museum appears at the prestigious South by Soutwest event in Austin. The Spring Tour will then continue in the Wax-Slezak’s hometown Charlottesville and end mid-Summer in Camden, NJ.
A word about the venue:
The Camel, in Richmond, VA, with its charming, historic-looking red brick exterior, is in what’s known as the Fan District. On this, my first visit, the Camel became my favorite musical venue, one of my favorites ever. A lovely space, the music room is adjacent but separate from the central bar and dining area.
There’s a wonderful intimacy to the room, with probably not a bad spot in the house. They’ve paid attention to: equipment and sound; large stage; keeping the show schedule so that a 3-act show ends without going into the next time zone; service; food, drinks, and extensive craft beers selection; and the friendliness and welcoming atmosphere that greets and keeps you. Kudos to the Camel!
A night at the Camel with Darlingside and their erstwhile touring companions goes a long way toward helping guests, in the words of D-side’s “The Ancestor,” find their way “Out of the darkness someday/Into a crimson, yellow sun.”