Sylvan Esso swept through Tulsa in a dizzying swirl of lights, electronic beats and charisma.
Sylvan Esso’s Tulsa debut featured familiar favorites from their first album (self-titled “Sylvan Esso”) and some new and catchy tunes from their most recent album (“What Now”) to a sold-out Cain’s Ballroom. After the first half hour, it was impossible to stand without brushing shoulders with someone if you weren’t in the shadowy back corners of the room.
Their opening act, Suzi Analogue, dropped some delightful beats that admittedly left me a bit out of my depth. An electronic performer, her neon sign rotated through phrases like “I hope my momma is proud of me” and “My favorite color is yellow,” which did, admittedly, endear me to her. She remixed a few radio hits and played a few of her own original mixes.
A disco ball lit up during her set, transforming the room into something out of a middle-school-me’s idea of the perfect blend of roller derby and the scene of an awkward slow dance in the school gym in the best kind of way. It was charming, amid the crowd, the strobing lights and synthetic beats.
Her energy seemed like it would be a hard act to follow. Cain’s Ballroom went dark for nearly half an hour, waiting for Sylvan Esso to start. The area duo comprised of singer Amelia Meath and instrumentalist and backup vocalist Nick Sanborn. The room was already littered with empty bottles here and there, a wrapper or two and a steady trickle of latecomers into the already packed main floor.
In that time, a trio of teens checked their Instagrams. A middle-aged couple talked about their to-do list. A man in a denim vest (which featured someone punching another person and, in stark white letters, “I’M NOT SORRY FOR ANYTHING”) joked with a group of people who also looked like they’d be more comfortable at a Riot Grrrl concert.
The disparate crowd didn’t prepare me for the confidence and charisma of Sylvan Esso. Their music sounds like something you would hear at Starbucks — it’s genuinely good, a little offbeat, with a soothing sound that lets you tune in and out as you focus. In person? They exploded.
They walked onto stage in simple clothes; Meath was in a black tank top and matching jeans, while Sanborn was in a graphic tee and jeans. There was a keyboard-and-assorted-effects setup on stage and little else. The air was fuzzy from vape and the occasional joint that someone had snuck in. The place smelled more and more like fruit, weed and sweat. A humble start after a modest wait, I wasn’t sure what to expect out of one of the few bands I’ve listened to for years.
Lights frizzled, popping out into greens and purples and pinks in time with the beat, twinkling white on their slower songs and jumping out in neon starbursts during songs like “Hey Mami.” The audience jumped more than swayed to each song. In the second half, someone threw glow sticks in time to the beat for a couple songs. Meath danced to every song, channeling Florence Welch in parts. She asked the crowd to howl before the song “Wolf,” and laughed herself into the opening bars of the song when the crowd was louder than Sanborn’s music. Later, Sanborn reminded the audience to buy merch from his “best friend Bobby” who was running the booth. He was “handsome, and has a beard … he’s handsome and his beard is handsome,” Sanborn corrected, to chuckles and a shout from the back.
The crowd trickled out of the concert and into downtown’s flooded streets just before 11. People huddled under the overpass just down the street to smoke and chatter about the songs, the lights, to wash out some of the energy that still sparked around them even as sheets of rain continued to splatter on the ground. Sylvan Esso’s vibrancy and passion were infectious, a feedback loop that lasted even after the mics were shut off.