Delta Spirit and Darker My Love, 12/4
For an evening, the Metro Theater was dipped in the honeyed, golden warmth of California. Yes, in the guise of Los Angeles-based Darker My Love and San Diegans Delta Spirit, the cold outside became bearable, hearts became lighter, and Wrigleyville became insular, a bastion of psychedelia and incandescent folk-rock.
Darker My Love began the night – the name a cruel misnomer – with the sun that shone on fellow left coasters the Grateful Dead at their backs. Opening with “Backseat” off of their latest album Alive As You Are, Darker My Love essayed bright country-rock, their voices twangy, adenoidal, with the coy harmonies of early Kinks. The band, who successfully captured stone cold psychedelic fuzz – with a charming pop twist – on their self-titled debut and follow-up Two, masterfully incorporate Phish’s penchant for deft instrumental noodling, impeccable power pop and the jubilant, sometimes blistering soul of CCR’s John Fogerty. They careened through their new tunes and played a handful of the old, including “Even in Your Lightest Day,” a mirage of blissfully disjointed trips and changing meter woven into gauzy sparseness and dense thickets of noise. With a keen ear for the blues rock loan words pioneered earlier by the Who and the Stones but none of the bravado, Darker My Love were a charming bunch. Moments of tasteful showmanship punctuated a confident set that culminated, in one song, in the gorgeous strains of slide guitar. Darker My Love is attracting a lot of buzz lately, and for good reason. Catapulted by the success of single “Two Ways Out” last year, 2011 shows a great deal of promise for Darker My Love.
Delta Spirit brought to the stage a different energy, perhaps less calculated, and all the more urgent. Delta Spirit are playfully rebellious, keepers of shouted folk-blues numbers as well as moments of heartfelt vulnerability. They tore through “Parade,” Matt Vasquez’s voice earnest, ragged. “Children” clipped along with bright, tremolo guitars, insistent, but not vehement. The band populated the Metro with its eminently hopeful soul, searing and vivid. Their crowd, energized in turn, shouted and danced in unadulterated celebration, proof that there may be no more dedicated fan than a Delta Spirit fan. “Strange Vine’s” ambling, saloon piano and leaping tambourine bespeak the effusive feel of the song, a sonic trapping of everything that can elicit a smile. Scintillating, bold, and never duplicitous, Delta Spirit occasionally show in their lineage the textured country rock of the National or the flair for the Walkmen’s lo-fi, slap echo roots, but bypass the melancholy of both and cut straight to the heart.
And it’s the band’s boundless energy that infected the Metro, communicable in the uninhibited movements of its patrons, keeping perfect time with the expansive rhythm section. They possess a unique ability to turn from plaintive indie pop to guitar histrionics, from muscular riffs to trundling Americana, all inflected with their impassioned grace. Perhaps at their finest moment, the band played “Streetwalker,” a high point on debut album Ode to Sunshine and an ecstatic one live. Vasquez intoned, throaty, with abandon, “Whoa, set me free,” emboldened by the spirit of Sam Cooke, and two hundred fans lit up, mouths open in solidarity. It’s this wholly unsurprising penchant for delivering chills that allow Delta Spirit to penetrate even a guarded exterior. If new material is but a fraction as original and effusive, it will be a success. For Delta Spirit are bearers of the standard of the all too uncommon: an art with no pretense, a feeling that betrays description, a moment of joy proclaimed without uncertainty or disbelief.