Sylvan Esso steals hearts with genre-bending pop


Photo Credit Kendra Kamp

On Friday, September 25, Durham, N.C. duo Sylvan Esso played to over 1,000 concertgoers in Calvin’s auditorium. Not only did Sylvan Esso perform a spectacular and seamless set, they exceeded expectations and provided their listeners with a new, deeper perspective on pop music.

For the traditional conversation before the show, band members Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn came dressed casually in jeans and sneakers. The small crowd settled in as Ken Heffner, the student activities director, introduced the concept of a pre-concert conversation: “The goal for these conversations is for us as an audience to learn more about their art, to ask questions. It’s not very often we get to have an unmediated conversation with an artist. Ask about their work so you understand their work better and try to move away from the cult of celebrity, which the industry loves to reinforce.” Both Meath and Sanborn were down to earth and hilarious, and they very eloquently and thoughtfully addressed questions concerning their songwriting process, how they respond to criticism, Meath’s love of dancing and the current state of popular music and the radio in America. They are a duo who, at the heart of their music, aims to speak to current social issues and the human condition with intelligence.

When Meath and Sanborn walked out on stage Friday night, there seemed to be a shift in the room; the air was suddenly charged with the palpable energy of anticipation. The bare stage housed a minimalist light structure composed of outward-facing pairs of arrows, which corresponded with Meath and Sanborn’s matching tattoos. The colored lights illuminated and synchronized to the beats of each song; the CFAC turned into a club for the night.

Meath exuded a fabulous confidence. She both empowered and inspired concert-goers with her stage presence. Her constant dance moves were powerful, graceful and unique, mirroring the sounds Sanborn created as he, too, moved to the music. Those in attendance crowded together at the front in the pit and danced.

In the song “Hey Mami,” Meath seemed to act as a spokesperson for those who long to stand up against the catcallers on the streets, singing, “Sooner or later the dudes at bodegas will hold their lips and own this s–t.” In “Dress” she quoted Beyonce, singing, “I woke up like dis” as the crowd joined in. They also treated the audience to some brand new songs that have not yet been recorded.

Watching Sanborn manipulate sounds on his laptop and synthesizers was like watching a cross between a conductor and DJ. Sanborn constantly adjusted and looped live vocals, pre-recorded samples and synth beats and pads. He created seamless transitions live by taking fractions of sound from Meath’s voice in the previous song, looping them and slowing them down or speeding them up to match the tempo and key of the next song. His orchestration was intriguing, and the obvious connection between Meath and Sanborn was fascinating to watch as they worked together to create a symphony, seemingly, out of thin air.

SAO has many upcoming concerts for this fall including Colony House, Nate Reuss and Over the Rhine. Get your tickets to these and many more shows and movies at the Calvin Box Office.