CMJ officially started today, but if I didn’t get my ass to another show this week, I’d be cool with it. Last night, Nashville’s Those Darlins played to a packed room at Mercury Lounge and raised the stakes for every other band rolling through this fair city over the next 120 hours. Consider yourselves warned.
It starts with Jessi Zazu. Onstage, the diminutive front-woman commands attention. And last night, with her all-white get-up punctuated by a cherry-red guitar, she seemed to say “Come at me. Dare ya.” She’s got a natural charisma, and from song to song, she transitioned smoothly from a tender, doe-eyed croon to a jagged snarl which belied the menace that spikes many of Those Darlins’ songs. On “Mystic Mind,” from 2011’s Screws Get Loose, her face even pulled into a wide-eyed-stare-of-dread like something straight out of an Edvard Munch.
The Mercury Lounge show falls in the midst of a lengthy U.S. tour supporting the band’s third LP, Blur The Line. On Saturday in Brooklyn, before a date at Union Pool, we sat down with Zazu, guitarist Nikki Kvarnes, drummer Linwood Regensburg and bassist Adrian Barrera to discuss the evolution of the band. Zazu and Kvarnes spoke at length about what it means to be an artist in the digital age, and the challenge of writing honest songs amidst the deluge of social media noise and “me-too” content pushers (irony acknowledged). It’s a conceit that manifests both onstage and on record with “In the Wilderness,” a romper about the need to retreat to the raw, and an idea which pervades Blur the Line, the band’s truest album to-date.
At the Mercury, the band stomped through nearly ninety minutes worth of their brand of punkified rockabilly (including an encore that featured a rad cover of “White Light/White Heat”). But for the me, the best song of the night, and the song which seems to encapsulate Those Darlins in the present moment, was “Oh God,” the lead track on Blur the Line. It’s a smoky, slow-burner steeped in danger and regret. And like all great art, there’s a sense of mystery. In this case you’re left wondering: what in God’s name has he done?