You probably already know this from reading this website or listening in on the LA Music Blogcast for the past couple months, but it’s worth restating because I get a kick out of it every time: Darkside’s Psychic was my favorite album of 2013. I was happy to see that it was very well-liked amongst my colleagues as well, as it ranked #14 on our list of the top albums of the year.
It’s quite literally a stunning record, a 45-minute dose of explorative electronic psychedelia that sounds familiar but is refreshingly original, and it practically made me impervious to the allure of any other albums that were released during the rest of 2013. The moment the duo put up their tour dates, I marked my calendar and eagerly waited for three months to see their show at The Fonda Theatre. When January 25th arrived and the thought that I’d be seeing Darkside that night ran through my head, my level of excitement rose incredibly, only to have my expectations overwhelmingly exceeded by the performance itself.
All photos by David Fisch
My initial thought regarding Psychic was that it was wonderfully evocative of the sounds of the golden era of psychedelic music — that era being post-Syd Barrett Pink Floyd, when David Gilmour got promoted to lead and the band’s subsequent output was monumental to structuring their identity — while still utilizing the trappings of the modern electronic music landscape. Not that Darkside is really an ode to Dark Side Of The Moon (though I have not asked the members directly about any connection), but given Psychic’s propensity for that era of music and the band’s stage setup at The Fonda Theatre, I’m starting to believe that the duo might be onto something.
For the most part, the stage was pretty dark, keeping in line with the band’s moniker. When lights did finally flash on, multi-instrumentalist Dave Harrington’s back was to the audience, and electronic musician Nicolas Jaar was to his side. Though initially an odd-looking setup, the duo remained positioned that way for the entire duration of the show, frequently looking at each other for cues, clearly focusing on how to pull an exhilaratingly impromptu performance out of a tracklist that sounded so precise. The setup ended up being beneficial to maintaining the duo’s mystique as we never got a fully-lit version of the members.
The lighting, which was designed by Amsterdam-based artist duo Children of the Light, did become much more important throughout the show, but perhaps the most crucial piece of equipment on that stage was the circular reflecting mirror dangling between the band members. During a number of tracks, such as “Paper Trails,” “Freak, Go Home,” and “Metatron,” the mirror would rotate, but the light source was actually coming from behind it, spilling over the sides to expose an eclipse that glanced over the audience. It provided a trance effect that blended perfectly with their performance, acting as their “prism” a la Dark Side Of The Moon.
Darkside performed and expanded on everything from the album to result in a solid 80-minute set that I couldn’t have been more happy with. The fact that it was mostly improvised was also astonishing, but given Harrington and Jaar’s multifaceted talents in their respective fields, I shouldn’t have expected anything less. Listening to these live versions compared to their studio counterparts was really like watching some spectacular jam session, with each bar of music naturally and progressively fluctuating between down- and up-tempo, getting more uniquely instrumental (and probably missing a note or two) but keeping in line with the tracks’ base compositions to make everything flow oh-so-nicely.
Darkside is set to perform at Coachella this year, and I’m curious to see how well they can handle that arena versus the enclosed space of the Fonda Theatre, which perfectly captured the duo’s essence. Their performance Saturday night has managed to set the bar extremely high for the rest of 2014’s live offerings, and if you can find a way to see them while they’re still on tour, I definitely encourage you to do so. Leaving the Fonda that night, I thought I might have just been witness to the next Floyd right then and there.
Psychic is out now on Matador Records. See Darkside’s remaining US tour dates below.
Darkside Tour Dates:
01/30 – Dallas, TX – Club Dada
01/31 – Austin, TX – Emo’s
02/01 – Houston, TX – Fitzgerald’s
02/02 – New Orleans, LA – House of Blue
02/03 – Atlanta, GA – Terminal West
02/05 – Washington, DC – 9:30 Club
02/06 – Philadelphia, PA – Union Transfer
02/07 – Boston, MA – Paradise Rock Club
02/08 – New York, NY – Terminal 5