Show Review: Sylvan Esso Breaks It Down At The Vic Theater

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Sylvan Esso is making music that sounds like nothing else out there right now. After forming in 2014 after working on a variety of other projects, singer Amelia Meath and Producer Nick Sanborn have been continuously pushing the envelope indie pop music with a unique live performance, complete with crystal clear vocals from Meath and live production from Sanburn.

The duo’s self-titled debut album was released in 2014 via Partisan Records (Ages and Ages, Cigarettes After Sex) and reached No. 39 on the Billboard 200. Fast forward to 2018, and the band has released their second album, What Now, have appeared on a variety of national and international music festivals and even scooped up a Grammy nomination for “Best Dance/Electronic Album” (they lost to Kraftwerk).

I had caught about 25 minutes of Sylvan Esso’s performance at Lollapalooza in 2017 but I knew that 1) seeing them perform in the daylight wouldn’t be the same as seeing a show at a venue and 2) Catching only a bit of their set wasn’t as exciting as seeing them perform their own headlining set. Their first show in Chicago was held at The Riveria Theater on Monday, July 23 – and I waited too long to buy tickets as it eventually sold out. Luckily for me, the duo added a second Chicago date at the Vic Theater – even better for me since it’s a 8-minute walk from my apartment.

Considering the fact that the majority of the shows I go to are indie pop/rock shows, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Sylvan Esso’s headlining show. The second show of the duo’s two night stint in Chicago started off with the opening track of Esso’s What Now – “The Sound” – a perfect introduction to the start of an electrifying 19-song set.

Meath captivated the 1400 audience members with her dancing, gymnast-inspired dance moves and her ability to hit every note with ease as she high kicked her way around the stage. I knew she had a great voice but her ability to control and maneuver it while maintaining a high energy performance with lots and lots of dance moves was something really cool to see, especially when there are lots of famous pop starts out there trying to do the same thing while lip-syncing (I will refrain from naming names).

Sanborn was a sight to see as well. Despite the self-deprecating jokes he made about being out of the loop as a 35-year-old, he is a pretty cool one. His stance slumped over his production set-up bouncing up and down like a puppet on strings, casually nodding his head to the beats that he was producing like he was just a guy standing in the corner too cool to actually dance at the club. The contrast between the pairing was stark, but it seems as though that this is the reason why the duo works together as well as they do. Electronic music (in their case, electropop music) can often be stereotyped as empty or shallow: but not Sylvan Esso’s. Their ability to write and create music about real life topics like bipolar disorder (“Jaime’s Song”) and catcalling (“Hey Mami”).

My favorite moments of the show included hearing “Die Young,” “Coffee,” “Parade (w/m)E” and “Radio” – all very different songs but probably my four favorites out of Sylvan Esso’s discography.

One of my favorite Tiny Desk Concerts ever:

The takeaways from the show: if I were to see Sylvan Esso again (and they were definitely good enough to see them for a third time), I would not sit in the balcony seats and throw myself into the general admission crowd. Not a big deal or anything, but I think the show would have been a different experience if I were surrounded by a bunch of people dancing and singing along in the pit rather than feeling a bit separated from the experience up in the balcony. Another takeaway: like I mentioned in the beginning of this: Sylvan Esso is creating music that’s unlike anything else out there right now. If you’re looking for meaningful dance/pop music that can still make you dance: start with Sylvan Esso.

What’s on the calendar:

August 2-5: Lollapalooza
August 5: Vampire Weekend Lollapalooza after show
September 15: Taylor Swift

Click here to read every show review I’ve written in 2018.

– Kristin

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