Darlingside performs at Mt. Baker Theatre in Bellingham, Wash., on Oct. 21, 2022. (Photo by MarK Caicedo)
As predicted, Bellingham’s first major fall storm arrived on Friday, bringing to the Pacific Northwest the cold, rain, and snow one expects this time of year. For the lucky few of us gathered in the warm interior of the gorgeous Mt. Baker Theatre on Oct. 21, though, Darlingside’s sweet melodies and warm harmonies provided a welcome shelter against the chill outside.
Since forming in Boston, Massachusetts, in May 2010, Darlingside’s music is known for its lovely harmonizing and intelligent songwriting. NPR described the band’s music as “exquisitely arranged, literary-minded, baroque folk-pop.” Band members Dave Senft (vocals, bass), Don Mitchell (vocals, guitar, banjo), Auyon Mukharji (vocals, violin, mandolin), and Harris Paseltiner (vocals, cello, guitar) together possess a unique ability to combine vocals into four-part harmony that transforms their songs into sonic jewels.
Many of us on Friday were anticipating the group’s original configuration, but were surprised when three new faces appeared onstage, while Senft’s was missing. As it so happened, Dave had announced in August that he would not be joining the group’s fall tour. But all is well. Writing on the group’s Facebook page, Dave explained, “I’ll be stepping away from all live performances — including local ones — so that the other guys can focus on crafting a consistent new live experience, with special guests and new musical elements we’ve always wanted to try. I’m deeply appreciative of that work they’re doing and so excited to see what they put together. In the meantime, my other roles in the band aren’t changing; I will still be writing, arranging, singing, playing, recording, and designing, as well as constantly losing track of personal items (my favorite tour hobby) — but it will all be from home, for now. Love, Dave and Darlingside”
Learning the reason for Dave’s absence after the show only made watching, and hearing, the band, now augmented with Molly Parden (bass, vocals), Ben Burns (percussion, vocals), and Deni Hlavinka (keys, vocals), that much more compelling. Their vocal and musical talents were spot-on and beautifully rendered as if they’d been with the band for years. I’d seen Darlingside once before opening for, and performing alongside, Brandi Carlile in 2018 at Washington, DC’s Anthem. I have to confess that I missed their intricate, lovely, and intimate harmonies in that venue’s cavernous enormity.
Watch Darlingside perform “Time Will Be” during a livestream in 2021 on YouTube:
A Darlingside performance is more than simply hearing perfectly crafted songs but also to experience an almost immediate intimacy between artist and audience. The band’s easy-going and often hilarious stage banter draws one in, as if we were hanging out in a warm living room, fireplace crackling, listening to old friends as they joke, sing, and play. The addition of the new players not only succeeded in accomplishing the task of reproducing the band’s “sound” but also in crafting a unique “live experience,” as Dave succinctly put it. The frequent smiles and grins among the group members confirmed the musical love and friendship happening onstage. One could easily imagine that this version of the band had already been playing together for years.
Darlingside hit the stage at precisely 7:30 performing what would turn out to be a 2-hour set, including a short intermission, their flawless harmonies reverberating throughout the ornate, acoustically perfect Mt. Baker Theatre. Built at a time when electric amplification wasn’t extensively used (1927), the building’s breathtaking sound quality is a perfect match for Darlingside’s dulcet harmonies. Given that this was only the second gig on the fall tour, the new members nonetheless fit in seamlessly.
In addition to the sublime vocals, the players’ on-stage chemistry revealed a camaraderie and ease of purpose. Harris introduced each band member in a particularly hilarious fashion by noting what each had brought on tour with them. Harris revealed that he had bought pH balanced (9.5!) water that somehow left him hydrated in a way he had never experienced. Small asides like this were inevitably met with good natured ribbing from the other band members.
Stream Darlingside’s latest album, Fish Pond Fish, on Spotify.
The evening included songs from their four-album discography: Pilot Machines (2013), Birds Say (2015), Extralife (2018), and Fish Pond Fish (2020). As a bonus, we also got several new songs-always a risky, but exciting, prospect for live performances (a new album is slated for release in summer 2023) or as Harris said, “unveiling new songs is quite…liberating.” Whether delving into their back catalog or debuting new songs, the gorgeous vocals and arrangements made for a freeing evening for the audience, as well.
God of Loss
Hold Your Head Up High
Time Will Be
Green and Evergreen
Lose the Keys
Best of the Best
E: Sweet and Low
Although Darlingside’s music invites inevitable comparisons to Simon and Garfunkel or Crosby, Stills, and Nash, the band has painstakingly carved out its own musical niche; their songs recalling fall leaves, colorful sunsets, bird calls, and tumbling forest creeks. Between quenching the audience’s thirst for lovely, live music and the softly falling rain outside, no wonder Harris “never felt so hydrated as in Bellingham.”
Darlingside’s US west coast tour runs through the end of October then heads back to the east coast in November. To find specific tour information, order Fish Pond Fish, and learn more about the band, please visit Darlingside’s website.
Here are some more photos of Darlingside at the Mt. Baker Theatre on Oct. 21, 2022. All photos copyright and courtesy of Mark Caicedo.