Cities like Seattle, San Jose and Austin are often considered to be the technology centers of the US. They are relatively new cities in the grand scheme with gleaming glass buildings and a young/hip urban vibe. Not to be forgotten are Madison, WI and Durham, NC, but where they seem to differ from the former as they heavily contrast the old with the new. The same can be said for Sylvan Esso, the duo of songstress Amelia Meath and electronic phenom Nick Sanborn hailing from Durham. On Tuesday, they descended upon Madison’s Majestic Theater for the first of two sold out shows on Tuesday night (venue co-owner Scott Leslie said they could have sold out four). Sylvan Esso is an amalgamation of Meath’s indie folk chops with Sanborn’s relentless string of beats. Yes, old and new.
Having previously seen Sylvan Esso perform outdoors at numerous festivals early in the day, the presence of ample spots, strobes, and floating light bars indicated it wasn’t going to just be sounds we were treated to. That was indeed the case. There was a hypnotic vibe created by the combo of Meath’s chilling vocals, Sanborn’s infections beats, in-your-face lights, and of course the bouncing and gyrating dancing of the packed house. Their set provided a perfect mix of standout tracks from their self-titled 2014 debut and their stellar 2017 release What Now. The tracks Hey Mami, Coffee, and HSKT were glorious sing/dance-alongs but it was the infectious groove of Kick Jump Twist and the poignant critique of modern media found on the track Radio that really got the crowd into a lather. As customary, they closed the evening with Play it Right which asks us to do some dancing and advancing to the light. That is exactly what happened last night as people tried to get closer and closer to the mesmerizing vibe of Meath and Sanborn.
Sylvan Esso’s sound is both contemporary and vintage, just like the cities of Madison and Durham. This is what I find makes their music timeless yet modern and novel. Few bands can make that claim as emphatically as they do. They attract as broad a composition of fans as any band I’ve encountered in recent memory. They are multidimensional just like their home and the city of Madison.