Concerned about the state of the world? Go see Sylvan Esso. They manage to have a fantastic time and encourage the audience to do the same, all while acknowledging in their themes and lyrics that the world is not always an easy place to live. The experience overall was cathartic, leaving me feeling more positive about what music can do when there’s a connection between the band and the people who listen to them.
Sylvan Esso is made up of Nick Sanborn, a DJ and producer, and Amelia Meath, a vocalist who previously sang with the a capella folk group Mountain Man. The American duo came together in 2013 and are currently based out of Durham, North Carolina. The fact that they came from two different genres certainly influences their music. Amelia’s soulful lyrics and indie melodies pair terrifically with the restless electronic beats Nick creates.
The pair begins the night with the song “Sound”, the opener from their sophomore and most recent album, What Now. “Sound” starts out with a crackling sound, like a vinyl being put on a record player. The same verse repeats over and over again, going from a distorted hum to Amelia’s voice singing loud and clearly. It is not until this point that Amelia joins Nick onstage. Choosing this song, which is not characteristic of their generally spirited and energetic music, is a surprising but perfect choice that sets the tone for the rest of the show, mainly because it forces the buzzing crowd to quiet down and listen. It’s easy to just party and dance to Sylvan Esso’s music, but “Sound” reminds the audience that their songs have beautiful lyrics that deserve just as much attention as the high-powered rhythms.
That being said, Sylvan Esso’s live show is a party, and Nick and Amelia like it that way. Amelia spends most of the show sliding around on giant platform shoes that make her at least 6 inches taller than she actually is. During the instrumental breaks, she moves her body to the pulsing of the music, enjoying Nick’s performance just as much as the audience is. Her exuberant movement around the stage encourages her listeners to let go, have fun, and embrace the unique experience of seeing music live.
Sylvan Esso ends their performance with “Radio”, a biting sendup of the music industry that reminds me once again of how their songs can be entertaining while still carrying a progressive message. “Radio” is exactly three minutes and 30 seconds long, the length mainstream radio stations prefer, and comments on how hard it can be, for women especially, to break into the music industry. At the same time, it is Sylvan Esso’s most pop record, and it is the perfect danceable track to end the show on. Because at the end of the day, Nick and Amelia just want you to have the time of your life. I certainly did.