If you read our Festival Recap for Forecastle 2016, then you’ll remember that Sylvan Esso was easily the best set that happened on the precariously placed “Ocean Stage.” The festival’s most central stage – situated underneath an interstate overpass – harboring countless teens wobbling and wandering on the last of their summer wine, gyrating with fervor to Sylvan Esso standards “Coffee” and “Play it Right.”
Long lede aside, when Sylvan Esso announced they would be headlining Marathon Music Works, anyone familiar with their live set’s interest would have been more than piqued –the opportunity to see their expanded sound in an optimally sized club being a far cry from an under-the-overpass set – and certainly ended up being more than satisfied.
Sylvan Esso received an assist from Columbus pop punk outfit All Dogs (who put on an excellent show in their own right), who were set to follow the band to Hopscotch Festival before the two factions parted ways. Following All Dogs’ airy set of whimsical punk and shredded guitar riffing, Sylvan Esso (Nick Sanborn and Amelia Meath) greeted their the throngs of enthusiastic admirers with as much fervor as the crowd before them as they ran through tracks both new and old.
Nick and Amelia wasted no time jumping into new tracks from their forthcoming LP, much to the adulation of the crowd, who jumped with crazed imitation as Amelia billowed and frolicked about stage with supreme ease. Before jumping into “Dance,” – a new track from their second LP – Amelia informed the crowd enthusiastically that the Marathon show was in fact her first show with a wireless mic; an illumination that makes her grace and presence on stage all the more impressive.
After tantalizing the crowd with the 8-bit-heavy grooves of “Dance,” Sanborn dropped the set into “Wolf,” which produced the night’s first sing along of woos and howls that further endeared Sylvan Esso to their impassioned listeners.
That’s the beauty of a Sylvan Esso show – the pockets of endearing moments – be it Amelia harmonizing with her audience, or Nick taking a minute between tracks to give the most genuine props to All Dogs before dropping back into his live mix (which is criminally underrated; Nick’s live production is bar none). Nick and Amelia do produce earth shattering earworms of pop songs, but they’re grounded to the point it becomes inconceivable that two people could be so kind – musician or not.
In a moment of comedic jest following another new song, Nick called out to the crowd asking if they were “still with us,” before scaling the set back with an impressive live rendition of “Uncantena”. Considering the fact that Marathon is one of the roughest sounding rooms to play in Nashville, the live production on both the house sound and Nick’s parts should receive more recognition that a single sentence, but when people want to dance, they don’t necessarily realize Amelia’s voice is being chopped and screwed in that immediate moment.
Nick and Amelia ran through a few more new songs – all of which shared a more ethereal quality not necessarily explored on Sylvan Esso (come on LP2, we need you) – before dropping into the evening’s biggest sing-along, “Coffee.” Its hard to share an intimate moment with 2,500 other people in the dark, but “Coffee” unified the Marathon room into one voice, and Nick once again flexed his “low-key” live mix muscles with some seriously tasteful pitch modulation on Amelia’s vocals mid-“my baby does the hanky panky” hook.
Near the tail end of the set, someone took it upon himself or herself to toss a handful of glow sticks on stage, which would typically incense certain acts, but not Sylvan Esso, as Amelia quipped about the set feeling like a Phish show and Nick added a simple “this rules,” before dropping into set closer “Radio.” Their newest single, the stage production for “Radio” was arguably the slickest of the night, though that would be like saying LeBron James was the best player in an all-star game, as the lights had been immaculate the entire night.
Following a very brief respite, Nick and Amelia returned to the stage to play the two songs that were oh so conspicuously missing – “Play it Right” and “Hey Mami,” – before closing the night for good. Considering the fact that Sylvan Esso’s set doubled as the opener for Marathon’s Fall 2016 season, its going to be a hell of a time for anyone else coming through to surpass Sylvan Esso’s set, if anyone does at all.