For electronic musician Nicolas Jaar, recording as Darkside with multi-instrumentalist Dave Harrington was a chance for the Chilean American prodigy to make what he called a proper “rock-and-roll record.” The critically acclaimed “Psychic” delivers on that promise, albeit on Jaar’s terms: The album deftly fuses spacey prog-rock with Jaar’s gossamer dance music and Harrington’s jazz and blues-inflected guitar work. But while “Psychic” is a headphone masterpiece for black-lit bedrooms, the Darkside live experience is another beast entirely.
Playing at a sold-out 9:30 Club on Wednesday night, there was nothing minimal or meditative about Darkside. Surrounded by a cockpit of computers, controllers and keyboards, Jaar and Harrington oscillated between two extremes, building walls of sound from screeching guitar, synthesized chords and analog crackle before tearing them down with the sledgehammer pulse of techno percussion. It was a pattern that repeated itself over the 80-minute set, the ebb and flow controlled by the practiced hand of a dance music ace.
Jaar, manipulating his equipment like a man furiously kneading dough, took the mike during the night’s more traditional moments, offering a singing voice that alternated between a quivering falsetto and the baritone of a nightclub-bound Nick Cave. Jaar had an easy rapport with Harrington, a trained jazz bassist whose bluesy riffs and waves of feedback acted as a call-and-response with whatever Jaar was up to.
And what would a prog-influenced concert be like without trippy visual accompaniment? For most of the night, an overzealous fog machine kept the crowd enveloped in a thick haze, a necessary evil for various lighting effects to take hold. Foremost among them was a mirrored disk, suspended behind the performers, that scanned the audience like a reflective spotlight, an effect that received cheers wherever it cast its aquatic glow. The smoke and mirrors were anything but deceptive: The audio and visual were perfectly entwined all night. For a band whose first recording session allegedly ended when a power converter exploded — filling their hotel room with smoke and destroying some equipment — it was certainly appropriate.
Throughout the concert, an appreciative but easily distracted crowd seemed more interested in the danceable sections of the set, clapping and bobbing along to the beat but getting chatty during the duo’s often-cacophonous improvisations. Darkside remained undeterred, however, exploring their narcotic jams for as long as they saw fit.
Even their one-song encore was more about finding musical epiphany than pleasing the crowd. Joined by opening act High Water on sax, Darkside turned “Greek Light” into one of the noisiest, most experimental jams of the night. As the audience members filed out, feedback still ringing in the air, they were left to wonder what they had just experienced — but at least the smoke had cleared.
Kelly is a freelance writer.