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Sylvan Esso Brings Joy to Minneapolis

The electro-pop duo draws a sold-out crowd at Surly

Photo by Alexander Kohnstamm

It’s been nearly a year since charming electro-pop duo Sylvan Esso sold out a two-night stint at First Avenue.  In the past year, they have managed to tour extensively across the country, release a sessions EP with friends reimagining songs from their newest album, and were nominated for a Grammy. That’s a big year!  The North Carolina duo sold out Surly Brewing Festival Field on Friday night to play to nearly double the fans as last year in a single night.  Surly felt like the perfect place to welcome them back.  It’s a large space with great sightlines on all sides, short beer lines, good food vendors, and they had PLENTY of ponchos for those of us who arrived early enough to be caught in the downpour (shout out!).

Photo by Alexander Kohnstamm

Sylvan Esso is singer Amelia Meath and producer Nick Sanborn.  Nick has a small setup of synthesizers, mixers, and microphone, and Amelia solely sings and dances to the beats and melodies that Nick turns out.  Behind them are eight arrow-shaped lights that imitate the tattoo on Amelia’s arm.  While the stage setup sounds simple, it is exactly the minimalist approach they need to make the show what it is – a dazzling experience where fans can tune out the world and just be happy.   As someone who has seen many bands push buttons on synths to trigger programmed music and passively bob their heads along – you should know that Nick is the opposite.  He is truly working every second of the show as he playfully dances over his instruments.  Amelia is a high-spirited performer and master high-kicker.  It’s impossible to keep your eyes off of her.

Photo by Alexander Kohnstamm

On a perfect summer evening, the sky was clearing from an earlier rainstorm and golden hour was setting in.  It’s exactly what you’d crave in your mind on a -20 degree day in January when you only want to be warm outside with a cold Surly in your hand.  Nick took the stage donning an oversized tie-dyed shirt and began to play “Sound,” which is the opening track to their 2017 release What Now.  As he twisted and turned the knobs of his synthesizers, the static melody grew familiar and the crowd hyped up.  Amelia emerged from backstage jumping up and down in a black two-piece bodysuit, white jacket, and crazy platform sneakers.  Minneapolis lost all control as they transitioned into a harder “Dreamy Bruises.”

Photo by Alexander Kohnstamm

The band paused to look in awe at the 5,500+ people who had come out to see them. They gave each other a smile that seemed to say “How did we get here?!” before taking us into favorites like “Signal,” “Die Young,” and “Kick Jump Twist.”  While Minnesotans are sometimes known for being stoic during concerts, Amelia’s dance moves can convince even the most Minnesotan fan to dance (me…).  It’s compelling to watch her glide across every inch of the stage as she brings these songs to life. Her coy smile makes you feel like she has a secret.

Photo by Alexander Kohnstamm

A highlight of the set was the result of a social media request. They dusted off their dreamy 2015 composition for Radiolab called “Jaime’s Song.”  They cultivated nostalgia with “The Glow,” got the crowd literally howling at the moon before “Wolf,” and dazzled everyone with a slow building “Uncatena” that burst into a powerful ending.  The rest of the set was all rise as they played their newest single “PARAD(w/m)E”, “Hey Miami” (dedicated to Nick’s parents who were in the audience), and “Radio.”

Photo by Alexander Kohnstamm

As they left the stage I couldn’t help but wonder what songs they would even have left for an encore.  Of course, there were so many more to choose from, but they had sprinkled in their biggest songs throughout the night.  As the crowd cheered for them to come back, staff was adding an amplifier and monitor to the stage. Nick and Amelia returned with special guest Chris Rosenau from fantastic opener Collections of Colonies of Bees.  He added a sparkling guitar part to “Slack Jaw” that should be a familiar sound to fans of Volcano Choir and Collections.  They kept the relaxed vibe going with  “Rewind” and went out with “Play It Right.”  After the band left the stage, I turned around and noticed that almost everyone was still standing together excitedly chatting, dancing, and most of all: they were happy. 

Photo by Alexander Kohnstamm

Setlist:

  1. Sound
  2. Dreamy Bruises
  3. Signal
  4. Die Young
  5. Kick Jump Twist
  6. Dress
  7. Jaime’s Song
  8. The Glow
  9. Just Dancing
  10. -Happy Birthday to march guy Bob-
  11. Coffee
  12. Wolves
  13. Uncatena
  14. PARAD(w/m)E
  15. Hey Miami
  16. HSKT
  17. Radio
  18. Encore:
  19. Slack Jaw (with Chris Rosenau)
  20. Rewind 
  21. Play It Right

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