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Darlingside - Union Chapel, London (3rd July, 2017)

LCM LIVE REVIEW

Concerts at the the multi-award winning Union Chapel are always special events. This gothic styled working church is often named as one of London's best and favourite live music venues. Last night was very special indeed, with headliners Darlingside alongside their special guest Caitlin Canty producing a stunning performance. Although both are based in the US, Caitlyn in Nashville, Tennessee and Darlingside in Cambridge, Massachusetts, this had all the feeling of a 'homecoming' gig. A packed Union Chapel audience (and their biggest worldwide (non-festival) audience to date) witnessed something quite extraordinary, culminating in a very well deserved double standing ovation

Special guest Nashville based based US singer-songwriter Caitlin Canty (originally from Vermont) opened the evening. Darlingside describe her as a 'big sister' and close fiend who they first met in Williams College in Western Massachusetts. Darlingside also produced Caitlin's first EP and they also played in a wedding band together. This was Caitlin's first London gig and her first trip to the UK. I'm sure that it will be the first of many to come. With a beautiful acapella introduction Caitlyn opened with the lovely 'The Brightest Day', one of the many songs in her extended set from her latest album 'Reckless Skyline' which was released in 2015.

With it's soft picked acoustic guitar slowly building into a rocky finish 'Love For You Will Not Fade' was a firm favourite. Caitlin’s next song “Dotted Line” taken from her latest EP 'Lost in the Valley' was used recently on Netflix’s drama 'House of Cards'. The very catchy and rocky bluegrass 'Enough of Hard Times' was another toe-tapper. One of my favourites in her set was her hit 'Get Up' . Caitlin has a wonderful pure vocals and this song showcased them to the full. I love the arrangements too.  Caitlyn said that in Nashville as a songwriter you have to write a 'weepy' and this was her one, the lovely 'Idaho'. Coming off-mic to deliver a super "unplugged' version of a Country classic made famous by Glen Campbell and written by Lefty Frizzell "I Want To Be With You Always'. Described by Caitlin as her 'crush on the south' was the sublime and reflective 'Southern Man'. Caitlin said that there was so many parallels between the UK and US and there was such a deep sense of community. The last song in her set was the beautiful title track of her last EP 'Lost in the Valley'. 

Darlingside are Don Mitchell (guitar, banjo, vocals), Auyon Mukharji (mandolin, violin, vocals), Harris Paseltiner (guitar, cello, vocals) and David Senft (bass, kick drum, vocals). They are a 'band of brothers' all from very different musical backgrounds and performance styles including chamber music, choral singing, Celtic session playing and street busking. NPR described them as 'exquisitely-arranged, literary-minded, baroque folk-pop'. Simply put the music Darlingside plays is serious, cinematic and deeply moving. There is a real special and magical feeling about it. All the band are all highly skilled multi-instrumentalists with a super tight delivery in their playing and harmonies. They certainly have the 'wow!!' factor.

The band’s name originates from a songwriting class taken by the band members at Williams College. The course instructor, Bernice Lewis, quoted British writer Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch in teaching the class to “kill your darlings.” Lewis applied this philosophy to songwriting, wherein a favorite line, lick, or riff (“a darling”) might compromise the balance and arc of the song as a whole. The name “Darlingside” is an homage to “killing one’s darlings.” It is spelled with an “s” instead of a “c” (like regicide, fratricide, or homicide) because the band felt the “s” is easier on the eye and because they are not super into death.

Grouped around a single bi-directional condenser microphone Darlingside started their set with the powerful and moving 'God Of Loss'. One of my favourite songs on their 'Birds Say' album and live it is quite simply stunning. An ode to Chicago followed, sparse notes from banjo, acoustic guitar, violin and keys punctuate the solemn and beautiful 'White Horses', in keeping with the song’s themes of haunting nostalgia and bleak winter inertia. They were joined on stage by UK singer-songwriter and friend of of LCM Tom Hyatt on keys.

Turning to a track on their 2012 debut album 'Pilot Machines' the band played the sublime and heartfelt 'My Love'

After a short interlude to describe the unfortunate encounter Harris had with walking into a glass sliding door on tour in Bristol and the ensuing mayhem, the band moved seamlessly into their next song the very entertaining and clever 'Harrison Ford'. The title track from their 2016 EP 'Whippoorwill' followed, a song about childhood and the passage of time. The song is named after a cabin in upstate New York. Also from the 'Whippoorwill' EP was the next track the rocky, psychedelic and catchy 'Blow The House Down'.

What can only be described as a 'Cheese' interlude by Auyon followed. After only finding out on tour that Cheddar was not only a cheese but also a place in England. The band had encouraged him to learn more about the country he was touring and of course cheese, which he approached with gusto. Raiding all the information on the 'British Cheese' website and then describing the band members entertainingly in cheese metaphors and imparting cheese facts for Cheddar, Stilton, Lancashire and Shropshire Blue.

It was back to their 2010 debut EP 'EP1' for the next track the reflective and personal 'Catbird Seat' with it's excellent fiddle playing from Auyon, making up for insulting his fellow band members earlier. Next up was the 'Bird's Say' album's opening track with it's bowed cello and gentle mandolin playing 'The Ancestor'. It reminded me of a gentle version of the Keston Cobblers Club, who headlined the same venue recently. Another super track was 'Good For You' again with mandolin taking the high notes and amazing four-part harmonies floating over the appreciative Union Chapel audience. With it's wonderful lyrics and metaphors was the almost Beatlesque 'Clay & Cast Iron'. It so difficult to pick a favourite song from their last album and EP as the quality is very high. It's the kind of music you just need to put on your headphones, have a glass of red wine by your side and just close your eyes and drift away. 

Very timely for the eve of the American holiday was another song from 'Whippoorwill' EP the 'Fourth Of July'. A very special Tom Petty cover 'Wild Flower' followed with Caitlin joining the band on stage. It held special memories as it was sung by Caitlin at Harris' wedding as Harris' bride was walking down the aisle. Harris said it was almost like being back at his wedding, as he was back in a church. But as one of his bandmate interrupted 'This time it was like the audience marring Harris'. To which someone in the audience shouted 'I Do'. 

With it's fuzzy guitar opening the wonderful 'Go Back' had shades of early Mumford and Sons. Brittle synthesizer-like sounds from Auyon’s mandolin seamlessly mesh with acoustic and 12- string Danelectro guitars for a great rock groove. 

They then made an important announcement. Darlingside are shortly to begin to record a new third album, to be released in the spring of 2018.

The final song from 'Bird's Say' in the set was the retro 'My Girl, My Guy' with shades of CSNY and the Beach Boys. As a fitting conclusion the encore was the powerful and anthemic 'Sweet and Low' written by the band 5 years ago and appearing on their debut album. They were once again joined by Caitlin and Tom.

The following double standing ovation I think said it all. I'm sure with the reception the band received that they will come back to tour the UK very soon. Watch out too for their new album in the spring, it's going to be very special. 

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