Sylvan Esso: Interview & Gig Review
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What do we know about symbiosis? A biological process of intense co-dependency? A dark and venomous Spiderman storyline from the 1990’s? Or when two distinct entities come together to form a sum greater than its parts? Sylvan Esso’s Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn typify the latter. That is not to say that isolated they would lack ability but combined they have found a perfect formula. Sylvan Esso bring together the optimistic yearning of folk, the dancefloor-ready groove of electro-pop and pure pop songwriting under one umbrella. They want you to sway, they want you to dance, they want sappy teenagers to hold their girlfriends. They want you to react.
An early start prompted some initial reticence from the Black Box crowd, Sanborn hilariously commented after ‘Dreamy Bruises’ he ‘felt like he was playing a Bar Mitzvah.’ This allowed the crowd a certain level of self-awareness and uninhibited the mood. Meath’s acrobatic and ethereal vocals pivoted through the Black Box like a trapeze artist doing ballet on a high wire. As this was the second last gig on their tour, she had previously admitted to a croaky throat of which there were no signs off. Her a cappella rhythmic style allows her vocals to coalesce with Sanborn’s production and to soar above it when needed. They compliment each other physically too, her arrested underwater movements contrast nicely against Sanborn’s jerky energy. This allowed the audience to find their own rhythm and means to get into the gig’s energy. As did the venue; the Black Box was kitted out in dangled fairy lights and scented candles, a cross between a hipster’s apartment and a séance taking place on a spaceship. Sylvan Esso’s aesthetic lies firmly in the middle of those descriptions.
Opening with ‘Hey Mami’ Meath chanted the opening refrain with enchanting vigor, as Sanborn looped the opening into a trance-like cocoon waiting to deploy the ever-present ‘drop’ to great effect. As a twosome this aspect of their performance can get repetitive – with their set-up it is hard to know how to avoid it – and so while Sanborn’s beats are varied enough to give a natural rise and fall to proceedings, a mid-set lull is hard to avoid. Surprise hit ‘Coffee’ and the club happy “HSKT” (Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes) reset the mood to a high intensity that never tapered off. Unlike their songs which tease a grander crescendo that (usually) remains tantalizingly out of reach, the band’s live set builds and builds, like being at a political rally when the speaker whom no one has heard of wins you over and by the end everyone chants ‘Yes We Can’. Playing through their entire debut album of nine songs, after the euphoric ‘Play it Right’ the band slipped off without an encore, perhaps to ease Meath’s throat, but cries of ‘One more song!’ and ‘Please come back!’ abounded. They had won us over. They wanted us to react, and so we did.