The last time I saw Sylvan Esso was over two years ago, in a much smaller room about 2,500 miles away. It was a cold January night in Charlotte, North Carolina (my hometown), about three hours outside of Sylvan Esso’s hometown of Durham. It was just a few months after the release of their debut self-titled album, and yet the venue was completely sold out, with tickets nearly doubling face value. That show served as a prelude to their wild 2015 tour schedule, including numerous sold out shows and almost every U.S. festival you can think of.
We met again under similar circumstances -- just a few months after their sophomore record, What Now, came out, surrounded by another sold out crowd. However, it was a hot summer night on the opposite end of the country countless hours away from our hometowns, and it was the first of two back to back sold out shows. Tickets for Saturday night were nearing $200 each on resale sites, nearly ten times the original asking price.
With that being said, it’s usually pretty hard to maintain such a level of hype for nearly two and a half years, but Sylvan Esso effortlessly keeps people fascinated and wanting more. Arriving just before opener Dana Buoy took the stage, The Neptune was already packed full of people. Portland’s Dana Buoy makes danceable synth pop, but towards the end of their set, most people seemed to be tuning out and taking a drink/bathroom break, aptly summing up Dana Buoy’s allure past the ten-minute mark.
Huge lights, accompanied by giant "less than" and "greater than" symbols, stood on the back of the stage and suddenly went dark, signaling Sylvan Esso’s arrival. As Nick Sanborn began playing each beat of “Sound,” a small, corresponding blip would light up on the signs. And as the music grew louder, the lights grew brighter until the signs were glowing bright white. At their peak intensity, Amelia Meath walked on stage and began singing with a matching cluster of "less than" and "greater than" symbols tattooed on her arm.
Sylvan Esso’s production is far beyond a normal synth pop band’s, but again, Sylvan Esso isn’t a normal synth pop band. Their neon lighting made songs like “Kick Jump Twist” and “Signal” come alive, and made slower songs such as “Die Young” resonate even further into one’s psyche. Their sound production is stellar too -- Sanborn’s craft over many synths and sounds is meticulous and at times, creates the perfect backdrop to Meath’s voice, while at other times is the forefront of everyone’s attention, while Meath’s vocals soften and croon in the background.
“Uncatena” was one of the most powerful tracks of the night, as Meath’s voice began to repeatedly shout “All I want from you is a letter, and to be your distant lover that is all that I can offer at this time," evoking emotion from every corner of the room. Some were crying, others screaming: but everyone was feeling something. Their ironic current hit “Radio” was another highlight, providing deep shades of blue lighting that cast over hundreds of people dancing and screaming the lyrics to a song questioning the importance of making radio hits. After the tune, the duo recounted their day, which included an earlier set for KEXP, in which Meath looked out into the crowd and said with a smile, "Y'all are so lucky to have such a dreamy radio station."
“It’s really hot in here right?” she continued, a question she asked over and over again throughout the night, and we’d scream and begin to fan ourselves. The last time she asked was before their final song, “Play It Right,” which provided a loud end to the night, and left us all damp with perspiration, filled with emotion and, in my case, a little less homesick.