Perched onstage at The Ark this past Sunday, Darlingside member Harris Paseltiner mused on the band’s journey across borders (domestic and international) to arrive at the rain-soaked streets of Ann Arbor. The weather, however dreary, did nothing to dampen the warmth and vibrant energy shared by musicians and patrons alike. Paseltiner related their long-awaited arrival to a homecoming; their performance felt every bit as comforting, exuberant and intimate as a homecoming should. Darlingside is at their best when performing live everyone else should take notes.
To start, The Ark’s intimate concert space was a perfect compliment to the multilayered harmonies and soulful lyrics of the band. The band’s signature folk-gospel hybrid — rootsy banjo combined with the chorus style singing of hymns — came to life Sunday night. Their music, which can sometimes feel heavy, thick and buried, was instead crystal clear and feather-light. In an age where streaming reigns supreme, Darlingside is at their best when performing live. Of course, that’s not to say that their recorded albums are bad — rather, Darlingside capitalizes on the unique performer-audience dynamic that exists only in the electric enchantment of live performance.
The band’s energy and personality shined brilliantly as they offered one-sided banter to the audience. From Auyon Mukharji’s friendly and somewhat surreal introductions, which included priceless tidbits like the band’s flirtation with red bananas (the fruit) or Paseltiner’s admirable (but futile) struggle to give up a caffeine addiction, Darlingside felt more like a group of old friends than a larger than life band gracing the humble streets of Ann Arbor.
Spectacle is a big and beloved aspect of performance — from show-stopping dance numbers to infamous red carpet outfits. But it’s the air of simplicity Darlingside offers that can be so endearing. There’s a touch of humility in their demeanors, and a sense of vulnerability in their singing. They’re just a group of friends making good music, having good times and enjoying as much of life as they can.
There’s so much that makes Darlingside good — charm, talent, a cool name — what more could a group need? Ah, yes, they also play banjo and cello, even the mandolin (which, let’s be honest, is pretty awesome). They also somehow make the lyrics “I liked it and I’d do it again / To be a turtle and a mayonnaise magnet” oddly beautiful. But throw away the fancy music terms and unnecessarily lengthy descriptions, and at their core, Darlingside is just fun. And everyone could use a little more fun in their lives, whether they’re a stressed student or the happiest person on the planet. So, do yourself a big favor, and go listen to Darlingside. Pro-tip: Start with “In the Morning,” because everyone should aspire to be a “mayonnaise magnet,” then buy tickets to their next live show — you can thank me later.