It’s not easy to captivate a crowd’s attention when your band is composed solely of two people, a microphone and a set of decks. Somehow, Sylvan Esso make it look like a walk in the park.
Unlike their sonic cousins Purity Ring, who fill the gap with the audience with a beautiful, intense lights show, Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn rely on their own energy alone to get the audience involved and moving. Their music rests on a slightly lower emotional plane than that of their chaste counterparts, and where Purity Ring’s Megan James slinks in the background behind dangling fairy lights, Amelia Meath springs forward and grooves along passionately.
And on this particular evening in Dublin, she does not dally in this regard, taking to the stage in sparkly platform boots and knocking out some graceful body popping to opener Could I Be.
While it doesn’t take two to body pop, it does take a bit of a response to keep her energy levels and enthusiasm up. Luckily it appears that Dublin has no problem goin’ up on a Tuesday; Whelan’s is sold out and buzzing. Perhaps it’s the pints, perhaps it’s the rare intake of vitamin D from the afternoon’s sunshine. More than likely it’s a healthy mixture of the two.
The duo transition seamlessly from Could I Be to the similarly energetic Dreamy Bruises and encourage the crowd to bounce along to the beat with some dancing of their own. While a glimpse at Whelan’s on this particular evening would do nothing to counter the common trope that white people can’t dance, it would at least serve as a reminder that they have so much fun doing it that it shouldn’t matter. Both performers and audience are beaming.
And just as the gravy train is pulling out of the station, the band dip into their biggest hit Coffee as their fourth song. The crowd knows every word, or at least the ones that they can make out. Their enthusiasm grows as the evening goes on; beads of dance-driven perspiration drop onto what must be the sweatiest floor in Dublin.
Meath’s frontwomanly skills are reminiscent of Samuel T. Herring’s charisma at the helm of Future Islands, giving the music another dimension in live performance. She comes across as extremely confident and comfortable on stage, and endearingly explains that Dress is an ode to seducing herself in the mirror, before slipping into the song and sprinkling in a bit of Beyonce’s Flawless on the outro for good measure.
The gig maintains a high tempo for the majority of the short, 50 minute set. The audience are treated to a new song, which is closer to the pumping Dreamy Bruises than their more chilled out work such as Hey Mami – a song brings about another sing-along, much to the delight of the singer, who encourages interaction from the crowd at every opportunity.
After Play it Right, the band say goodnight and depart from the stage, wishing their collaborators for the evening all the best, and promising a return in the near future. You get the impression that they really do mean it, as the two appear to have genuinely enjoyed the interaction with such a responsive audience.
At this point the crowd’s boundless energy, with the outlet of dancing abruptly shut down, turns to a murmur, and then a shout. They are no longer people but baying hyenas, awaiting their next kill. The usual ‘One More Tune!’ chant starts up, and as the lights rise on the stage the seconds linger on, the chant becomes louder; almost desperate.What will this crowd do if they don’t come back for an encore? Just as it appears that we are sure to have a riot on our hands, the duo settle heartrates by re-emerging to rapturous applause. Whelan’s is safe, for now.
They use the encore as an opportunity to debut another new song, and even manage to tame the audience into a polite murmur over which you can just about make out their comparatively glacially paced closer Come Down. While it may not have been exactly what the audience wanted to close out the night, it is a strong performance of a moving song, and it exemplifies the band’s adaptability.