Patty Griffin, Darlingside Heat Up Pioneertown
“Nothing like some gospel to warm things up,” Patty Griffin opined after her band took the outdoor stage at Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown, California, and tore into “Move Up,” an uptempo traditional from her 2010 Downtown Church album. Which was a good thing. It was a crystal clear and freezing night at the desert roadhouse and musical oasis renowned among Southern California music fans for its friendly vibe and stellar entertainment calendar.
To wit, Griffin, on tour behind her recently released Servant of Love — with the support of critically acclaimed Boston quartet Darlingside — made a point to schedule a stop in Pioneertown, a small community built upon a 1940s era movie-set, between dates in Los Angeles and Arizona. With a star-dense sky overhead, and a view of the silhouettes of desert crags and Joshua Trees beyond her attentive audience, Griffin didn’t mention the cold to her audience again (albeit her hat and flannel stayed on throughout the show).
While her set would be long on songs from Servant, her choice opening song served notice about Griffin’s musical versatility and vocal prowess, as well as her band’s power.
David Pulkingham on a fleet of electric and acoustic guitars, Billy Harvel on drums and keys, and Conrad Choucroun drums and bass, were more than up to the challenge of Griffin’s penchant for expanding the parameters of “Americana.” Many of her new songs are built on rhythms and lines rather than verses and choruses (“Gunpowder”), others are meditative piano ballads (“Servant of Love”); “250,000 Miles” sounded like an incantation; and “Hurt a Little While” could have fit on Downtown Church:
It might hurt a little while
Hurt a little while
It might hurt a little longer
Than a little while
But one of these days
I’m gonna smile again
One of the best things Griffin does is mine heartbreak, and her ability to dig deep with her voice is, as always, her ticket to transcendance. On this cold night, it was a revelation, even to those already initiated into the world of Griffin’s music. Cold notwithstanding, she employed every ounce of her being with each sound she made, and if it weren’t a freezing night, the crowd would have been happy to sit and listen to her sing until dawn.
The other revelation of the evening was Darlingside, the earnest Boston quartet, armed with classical training and intent on not being predictable. “We write every song by committee,” cellist and guitarist Harris Paseltiner noted early in the show, which could be a recipe for disaster (or immediate disbanding) in less capable hands. But Paseltiner, along with bassist Dave Senft, guitarist and banjo player Don Mitchell, violinist and mandolinist Auyon Mukharji, nonetheless called to mind equal parts Simon and Garfunkel, Mumford and Sons, and the Beach Boys, as they gathered around a single mic to present something astonishingly accomplished and original.