Sylvan Esso at The Anthem review

by Gem Miller

Sylvan Esso vocalist Amelia Meath and her husband/DJ Nick Sanborn gave their needy audience everything they asked for at The Anthem on Thursday November 11. “I think it was a really good reminder of how thoroughly people love their favorite musicians and how hungry they are to share that love with them and also with other people,” observed my companion and Sylvan Esso-cultural-outsider Justin Gross.

I have been a follower of Sylvan Esso’s music for quite a few years now, and even mentioned their sophomore album What Now on my list of best albums by women in music. I have seen a handful of concerts post-vaccine but was especially antsy for my first Sylvan Esso live show.

The crowd started small and still, but after Lido Pimienta’s opening set the crowd was more than ready for the headliners. Lido’s powerhouse vocals and entrancing tunes would have been enough to win over the audience, but her captivating personality and jokes between songs took her set from great opener to one of the best I’ve seen.

The audience grew larger and the air was thick with anticipation. After all, Sylvan Esso’s third album Free Love was released in September 2020 with its peppy lead single “Ferris Wheel” released July 2020. Meath gave an electric performance with an equally as electric outfit. Those familiar with Sylvan Esso know Amelia’s famously fun fits accompanied by white platform sneakers. This show, she was sporting a strappy, neon green, geometric, see-through two-piece. Her bright white hair matched her staple sneaks. Nick, in contrast, wore a comfortable t-shirt and baggy pants with grown-out hair.

Meath relished every beat, every melody, and every moment on stage while giving us her distinct yet gentle vocals. Sanborn was just as fluid as he methodically mixed each song. As in their recorded tracks, Meath’s voice perfectly blends with the quirky production choices for an incredibly endearing listen. Justin, my No Boys Allowed co-host (on WMUC Digital Tuesdays at 1pm), is not a huge Sylvan Esso fan. Still, he found it remarkable how these little-known musicians could generate such energy- that the crowd could feel and go so electric for them.

This show was great, but there was something about it that made it sweeter than any other show I’d seen this year. Similar to other pop musicians in 2020, Esso released a dance album with a dark undertone (intentionally like Chromatica, or contextually like Future Nostalgia or other 2020 nu-disco). But Sylvan Esso has always made dance music with a subversive tone. Sonically, their music follows traditional dance tropes, but their distinct aesthetic of dance-pop creates an inviting subversion of the genre. The lyrical subject matter mirrors this with songs like “Radio,”“PARADw/ME,” and “Slack Jaw.”

Though most concerts nowadays feel like a climactic ending to a battle against our own patience, lusting after the experience of physical and social unity, Esso has always been about just that. Dancing is a sadness, a momentary escape from whatever plagues us in the misery and complexity of daily life. You don’t need to think too hard at a concert, especially with music as danceable as Sylvan Esso’s, but they give you the option to. You can take a break from your grooving and listen to these melancholy lyrics, look in front of you, look around you, and see that this is a shared struggle. We have all crossed the finish line. We’re all together in the same room, just shaking out the numb.