Darkside, with High Water
The Fonda Theatre
January 25, 2014
With every release, virtuosic 24-year-old producer and DJ Nicolas Jaar breaks new ground. His fusion of experimental, down tempo dance music – incorporating everything from Chilean techno to Ethiopian – defies easy categorization. If space is only noise that you can see, as he named his first album, then Jaar has heard the constellations.
This same enigmatic quality can be ascribed to Jaar's group Darkside, which also features guitarist (and fellow Brown alum) Dave Harrington. Their ambitious first LP, Psychic, successfully bridges the gap between electronic music and rock; 45 minutes of dark, grooving, mind-altering psychedelia. Saturday night, a packed crowd waited for the duo's magic.
See also: Our interview with Darkside's Dave Harrington
The opener, known as High Water, is on Jaar's Other People label. A talented saxophone player, he led with a solo; his most engaging moment came when he looped himself playing over a bouncing drum loop. We're not quite sure he's ready to flex his vocals on stage, however. For now, his voice works best at a lullaby-pitch.
Then it was time for Jaar and Harrington. Jaar got to pushing buttons and twisting knobs while Harrington shredded on guitar.
At one point, a strobe light shot out from the balcony, refracting off a massive, previously obscured mirror on stage and creating a solitary beam that looked like the wormholes Jake Gyllenhaal sees in Donnie Darko. The fantastic light display, a seemingly gelatinous, elongated spectral portal, seemed to represent the whole experience.
Harrington has likened his and Jaar's performances to that of a jazz band or a jam band, and their extended, improvisational nature was evident almost immediately. The track times on Psychic were done away with entirely.
Before the phenomenal “Paper Trails,” perhaps the record's most accessible song, Jaar and Harrington combined for a funeral pyre of ambient sound. The claps at the beginning of the song were stretched, echoing like slow, solitary footsteps down a darkened corridor.
When the bass dropped, the floorboards rattled. Jaar's deep, at times Jim Morrison-like croon, drew screamed. Harrington's guitar work was indebted to the blues.
It's clear how well Jaar and Harrington complement one another. They've taken the expansive songs of bands like Pink Floyd and The Doors and modernized them in a discerning and sophisticated way. When Jaar sung the words “better find a way to get through to you,” the 'you' wasn't a person, but an ethereal place – the other side.
Despite the electronic aspects, their music is grounded in the deep red-brown earth of Roswell dirt – turned thick, mobile and malleable sludge. It also conjures imagery of unknown snakes and lizards baking in the heat on an extraterrestrial terrain. And somehow it still sounds right in L.A.'s urban sprawl, suited for a weekend trip to trip in Joshua Tree or lysergic lane changing amid the lights and buildings of Hollywood Blvd.
Among the other standouts was “Metatron,” where Harrington's guitar wept like the widow of a fallen gunslinger in a Western. The duo reworked the song, taking its already slow crawl and turning it near static. It sounded as if Ennio Morricone had scored an episode of David Lynch's Twin Peaks.
For the encore, Harrington and Jaar brought out Epstein to play sax. Playing their respective instruments at full blast, it sounded like the three were warring with one another. It was as if they were back in their Brown dorm rooms, each playing their favorite records at the same time and imagining this moment. Behind the beam of light or on the other side, maybe they were just as surprised as we were.
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