Sylvan Esso brings electro-folk to Nashville

Josh Hamburger

Wearing an all-black outfit with her signature high platform shoes, Sylvan Essovocalist Amelia Meath walked out onto the stage with bandmate Nick Sanborn, grabbed the mic and immediately asked the audience: “You guys ready to get sweaty?” This singular question aptly characterizes the entirety of Thursday night’s performance by the electro-folk band out of Durham, North Carolina. The concert took place at the Marathon Music Works with opener All Dogs at 8:00 pm. It was a performance that felt like equal parts concert and dance party, the crowd spurred on through Meath and Sanborn’s own free-spirited engagement with the music.

The duo, consisting of vocalist Meath and producer Sanborn, played to a crowded group of concert-goers, who were surprisingly diverse in terms of age, given the band’s relatively recent emergence within the indie pop niche (Sylvan Esso’s eponymous debut album came out just two years ago). While the first few rows were filled with the requisite twenty-something scenesters, this gave way in further back rows to a broad range of audience members in their twenties, thirties, forties and fifties. However, the disparity in age was offset by a unifying enthusiasm for the band’s performance.

And perform, they did. Immediately following Meath’s initial question, the band kicked into “Dreamy Bruises,” the first song off their debut, a song with a grooving electronic backbone that gives way to a contagiously catchy chorus. The crowd chimed in with Meath’s “ah-e-ah-e-ah”, as she immediately began to showcase her unique dancing, a jerky, abstract combination of head and arm twitches that nonetheless felt smooth and natural, and incited the audience to partake.

Off to the side, Sanborn kept up as well, slightly hunched over his production equipment and enthusiastically bobbing his head up and down. Behind Meath and Sanborn, a minimalistic but effective v-shaped pattern lit up to the music, occasionally turning dark to showcase just the silhouette of the duo dancing to the music.

After this initial song, Meath took to the mic once again: “We’re gonna play some new songs.” Sanborn chimed in, announcing that the next song had never been performed before. In fact, the next three songs would all be new and seemed to indicate a shift towards a more electronic Sylvan Esso, with one of the songs lacking a chorus in favor of a thumping beat breakdown.

At one point during these songs, Meath mentioned that this was her first ever concert with a wireless mic. The comment seemed to underscore the importance of physicality to the band’s performance, and sure enough, the audience cheered and clapped when she made the announcement.

From there, the band played just about every song of their debut album, from “Dress” to “Uncatena,” with few exceptions. At the start of almost every song, the audience cheered emphatically, often cutting off the first few words. The crowd’s dancing matched the energy coming from the stage. At the start of “Coffee,” undoubtedly Sylvan Esso’s biggest hit thus far, the applause was palpable — the chorus becoming a Marathon-wide singalong.

Near the end of the show, Meath and Sanborn thanked the audience for their willingness to hear their new material. Then they announced that they had two more songs left, the vocal-centric “HSKT” and their newest single, “Radio.” As if that wasn’t enough, the duo returned for a two song encore of “Hey Mami” and “Play it Right.” To the very end, the audience sang and screamed along to the chorus.

It was a show that left little to be desired, both in terms of setlist and performance. When the show finally ended, it was hard not to feel satisfied, a little tired and a little hoarse.