Sylvan Esso Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, BC, April 25
Published Apr 26, 2015Word of mouth is a powerful thing. So is a catchy first single from a band that formed two years ago, were relatively unknown for the release of their self-titled debut last year, and now command sold-out shows on their first world tour. The iconic Commodore Ballroom played host to brilliant electro-pop duo Sylvan Esso, a sold-out show and their last stop on a six-week tour.
For a band so young in their progression they easily elicit a sense of awe in that their humble development has garnered such ardent loyalty and well-deserved attention. Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn dropped right into "Could I Be" and that was it — the group had already, in seconds, caught the crowd and they sure as hell weren't letting go. Meath and Sanborn ran through the majority of their debut album, but what's striking about their performance was its intimacy, despite a full house and a palpable energy permeating every inch of the room.
Meath's stage presence was an ethereal embodiment of vocals and movements in their entirety — an unselfconscious expression independent of her surroundings. And it was stunning. Sylvan Esso pulled out a few surprises during their set, one of which was as alluring remix of "Sea Lion Woman." (Meath's harmony-heavy folk band Mountain Man has previously toured with Feist.) The track was significantly slowed down, with Meath humbly paying tribute to a Canadian icon and Sanborn filling the void with a beautiful, broken down, note-by-note rendition, heavy with bruised synths.
The second surprise came near the end of the night with the introduction of a new track tucked into the set list. Unfamiliar tracks are often made evident by an awkward ripple spread across the crowd, a jumble of limbs that come to rest due to an unknown beat, a silence that settles when vocals can't be sung. Despite no introduction by the band, the new track garnered a more visceral response than almost any other from their set, with the entire floor jumping in unison to a pulsing hook easily picked up after the chorus had a run through.
That in itself epitomizes the appeal of Sylvan Esso — their methods may seem formulaic in producing a melodic structure, but their building energy and powerful hooks, pushed by Meath's vocal strength, create a unifying force, and an unbeatable live performance because of it. A short departure from stage and they were back for an encore, Meath coyly expressing if the crowd had any familiarity with their catalog of songs, they'd know the group only had one more. An intimate scene, a backlit Meath slowly worked her way into "Come Down," Sanborn capturing her reverberated vocals, compressing them into static, taking the pulse of the show and closing with it.