There seemed to be two types of people who attended Darkside’s headlining set at Metro on Friday night: those who came to simply witness the duo’s genre-defying compositions and those who showed up to dance. Attracting both of these audiences was no small feat, though Nicolas Jarr’s pedigree as a DJ and the group’s resounding critical success likely played a part in drawing a sold-out crowd. The duo’s debut record, Psychic, veers sharply away from the rote formulas of modern electronic dance music. Favoring sparse percussion and spacious guitar riffs over thumping beats and floor-shaking bass drops, Jarr and guitarist Dave Harrington create electronic music with improvised origins.
The performance unfolded across several sprawling instrumentals that incorporated abbreviated versions of many of the tracks from Psychic. The looping guitar riffs of “Heart” and the pulsing cadence of “The Only Shrine I’ve Seen” were recognizable, but the components of each track were placed in different contexts. Backed by a giant circular mirror and periodically enveloped in thick clouds of smoke, Harrington provided guitar accompaniment while Jarr acted as conductor, manipulating samples, playing keyboard and occasionally stepping behind the mic to sing. Much of the set reflected the expansive tone of the duo’s LP, but Jarr never missed an opportunity to dial in a driving beat and underscore the evening’s most dance-friendly moments.
Towards the end of the set, the duo invited saxophonist Will Epstein to the stage to accompany the Vangelis-inspired strains of “Greek Light.” The subdued number proved to be the calm before the storm, as the band dove into it’s final song, flooded the room with smoke and began shining lights onto the large mirror behind them. The swirling reflections that covered the walls were an appropriate visual manifestation of the churning rhythms and melodies that brought the main set to a close.
Darkside didn’t seem to plan on returning to the stage for an encore, but the pair managed to improvise a slowly building piece that erupted into a thunderous drum and bass groove before abruptly coming to an end. It’s rare to see such a spontaneous musical moment transpire in a venue like Metro, but the strong musical connection between Jarr and Harrington was undeniable. By the end of the night, there was no underestimating the power of Darkside.