Sylvan Esso Brings on Miles and Miles of Smiles
Photos by Jack Gorman
Over the past year, the North Carolina electro pop duo Sylvan Esso has toured the country supporting TUNE-Yards, did the late-night television rounds and played festivals across the globe. Rolling Stone listed the group's single "Coffee" as one of the 50 Best Songs of 2014, and NPR named them one of the Top 10 Breakout Artists of 2014.
Wednesday, the blossoming group's headlining tour stopped by a sold-out Fitzgerald's, as Nick Sanborn shook the old wooden building down to the foundation and Amelia Meath mesmerized the crowd with her voice and freestyle dance moves.
The group was a late booking at last year's Free Press Summer Fest, but it was highly likely that you missed them; as the first act slotted to play on Sunday morning, approximately 150 people caught their performance. At the time it seemed that the chemistry between Meath and Sanborn was just budding, but it is apparent now that it was flourishing in the June heat.
The perfect mesh of Sanborn's electronics and Meath's vocals make Sylvan Esso's music extremely addictive. The show has been sold out for several weeks, which was noticed not only at this venue but several others across our city. It is a pleasing trend that shows Houston is tuned into some pretty great artists.
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Their self-titled debut album is superb, combining Sanborn's beats and loops with the repetitive hooks hauntingly sung by Meath. The all-around happy vibe that Meath exudes take away from the intricate, poetic lyrics that did not seem anywhere near as complicated or in-depth as they actually are when performed live.
The energetic Meath's joyful mood was infectious. No one in the venue was immune, as seemingly everyone flashed smiles and bobbed with her moves. It was difficult for anyone in the venue to remain still through the set. Don't kid yourself: Meath is definitely front and center in this group, but every so often your eyes would shift to Sandborn's erratic movements, as he twisted knobs and triggered beat drops, then moved back from the table to look at the crowd in elation. No one is certain about exactly what he is doing up there, but he makes it work.
The two have an intriguing connection. They did not share glances but stared at one another, maintaining eye contact the entire time. It was attractively creepy, but easy to understand if Meath was singing to you on a regular basis.
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Hands down, the crowd's favorite was "Hey Mami." The audience sang the lyrics back to Meath as she slunk around the stage, moving constantly but never covering more than a six-foot radius. On the back end of the set, Meath gave a short speech about experiencing the show how it should be and not through screens. She asked that everyone put up their phones for the rest of the performance so she could have a connection with them and promptly moved into singing "H.S.K.T.", a song about being present and in the moment.
With all due respect, Sylvan Esso was a badass, grown-up version of a successful and more attractive Napoleon Dynamite and his pseudo-girlfriend Deb. There was seemingly purposeful awkwardness to the performance that worked by entrancing the audience from the word go.
The set seemed short and the crowd wanted more, but the duo played their entire album and included a cover of Porches' "The Cosmos." After touring for about a year, hopefully we will get some new music much sooner rather than later.
So, How Were the Openers? The poppy indie-rock grooves of upbeat New Orleans quartet the Generalists were a hit. Their poppy indie-rock grooves seemed to have . Several people seemed to have come specifically for their set, and if not, the band left town with a roomful of new fans.
Personal Bias: I've had Sylvan Esso in my regular playlist after hearing "Coffee" on satellite radio just under a year ago. I've been preaching the word of Esso since then.
The Crowd: Very diverse, more ladies than gentlemen and lots of couples. Oh yeah, and super-pumped as the FPSF commercial played between bands.
Overheard In the Crowd:
"I've never met anyone named Sylvan before."
"Dude, Sylvan Rodriguez is on Channel 11."
"I know, but I haven't met him."
SET LIST Could I Be Dreamy Bruises Dress Coffee The Cosmos (Porches cover) Wolf Uncantena Hey Mami H.S.K.T. Play It Right Encore Come Down
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