Darkside Lee's Palace, Toronto ON, January 15

Darkside Lee's Palace, Toronto ON, January 15
Photo: Stephen McGill
Given the current "just press play" trend amongst maximalist EDM DJs, it's not only refreshing to watch an electronic artist actually play live, it's downright revelatory. Of course Nicholas Jaar and Dave Harrington, performing as Darkside, have very little to do with that world. And they don't just play their instruments; they know how to fucking jam. Throughout their hour-plus set, the two could be seen looking to one another for visual cues, shifting in and out of sections with a head nod.

The crowd's first clue about the tone of the evening's performance should have been the jazz blaring over the speakers before the duo hit the stage. When they finally emerged they took their time to build each song from the pair's debut, Psychic. When they peaked, tracks like "Heart" and "Paper Trails" became dance floor bangers, grounded by Jaar's thumping beats and pulsing grooves with Harrington layering guitar trills and chord bursts overtop. His bluesy lines in "Paper Trails" were a nice counterpoint to Jaar's futuristic sounds, displaying the alchemy at work with the group. It also offered a fitting, if not entirely intentional, reference to dance music's origins in R&B.

While this mix tended to favour Harrington's guitar histrionics — and they are quite mighty — lost in the mix was the precision and subtlety that marked their excellent full-length. Yet given the enthusiasm with which the sold-out audience greeted each song, in this scenario the duo were clearly playing to their strengths.

Their stage setup, dominated by keyboards and effects pedals, was augmented by a giant, revolving circular mirror, which bathed the duo in reflected light, making Harrington look like the guitar hero the former bass player was meant to be, while Jaar appeared happy to let his partner take the spotlight. He used his mic sparingly for short bursts of soulful vocals during the performance and had even less to say between songs.

Stretching songs to twice, or even three times their normal length meant that the pair only made it through half-a-dozen tunes before the night ended. Still the band's first Toronto appearance proved they were more than capable of translating the complex music of their debut to the stage while still moving butts on the dance floor.