Sylvan Esso, the most prominent electronic duo to emerge from Durham, North Carolina, have been keeping themselves busy in the time I had last seen them (holy cow, has it really been three years?!).
After the release of their second full-length album, What Now?, they put together WITH, a limited tour with a host of other artists joining in, including Amelia Meath’s (vocals, unstoppable dance moves) Mountain Man partners, Molly Sarlé and Alexandra Sauser-Monnig as well as Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak; Mac McCaughan of Superchunk; and a host of others.
In addition to a new Mountain Man live album, Sylvan Esso’s Nick Sanborn also produced the most recent Flock of Dimes (Jenn Wasner’s other project), along with 2020’s Sylvan Esso LP, Free Love. Oh, and they just launched their own record label, Psychic Hotline, which — in addition to Nick’s Made of Oak project and Mountain Man — includes a slate of artists such as Phil Cook of Megafaun and the Dead Tongues (which I had the pleasure of seeing open for Mountain Man a couple of years back). All in the midst of a pandemic.
One of the great things about the new LP, Free Love, is that there’s really something for everyone. There’s plenty to move bodies over with songs like Ferris Wheel, Train, and Runaway, but it’s the words and stories like opener “What If” and the utterly beautiful “Free” with the Meath being asked “What it’s like to love everybody” and responding “…it feels like / Each moment is loving at first sight / Oh, I love how your looking looks inside / Oh, I’m never changing, but in the reflection reflected in your eyes / Oh, the magic of being packaged feels amazing…”
Stream Free Love by Sylvan Esso on Spotify:
I imagine it must have been beyond difficult to not tour these new songs for the last years plus, because they almost beg to be seen on the stage. Fortunately for all of us, Sylvan Esso’s “Shaking Out the Numb” Tour kicked off a couple of months ago, landing at The Anthem on Nov. 11.
“What if end was begin? / Then would men be like mothers? / And the falling of others would be like / The first leaves of flowers” like a voice in the darkness came through the speakers as Amelia’s voice marked the beginning of this dazzling set. And as the duo transitioned into “Ferris Wheel” from the new album the crowd reacted with cries of joy.
As Nick threw his head back and forth, keeping the beats going, Amelia took control of the stage, lassoing the audience in with every movement. And props to the lighting designer, because each song was accented with brilliant lighting, emphasizing each tone and rhythm.
For only two people, Amelia and Nick’s presence took over the stage, buoyed by the flashing lights and thrumming bass. It’s no secret Sylvan Esso is consistently cited as one of the most exciting live acts around. Taking a rare breath, Nick thanked the crowd, “There are so many people here, thank you so much… we are so glad to be here. Let’s play a hundred more songs!” And what followed was an amazing spectacle.
After announcing the song, “Wolf,” Amelia got the crowd howling, announcing “That was pretty good!” before the moving into the slower number before then going into the high-energy thump of “PARAD(w/m)E” and “Kick Jump Twist” to bring the entire main floor bouncing.
After playing old favorites “Hey Mami,” “Coffee,” and “Radio” Sylvan Esso performed probably my favorite song of the new record, “Free,” which sounded haunting and beautiful with just a piano and Amelia’s voice across this 6,000 capacity room. And before the encore, Amelia dedicated the song, “Numb” to everyone in the audience.
Sylvan Esso again put on one heck of a show and one not to miss. Check them out here for more information.
The set list included:
Kick Jump Twist Sound
Play It Right
Make It Easy
Here are more photos of Sylvan Esso performing at The Anthem on Nov. 11, 2021. All photos copyright and courtesy of David LaMason.