Portland loves Sylvan Esso. The last time they played the City of Roses was back in the spring of 2015. Hot off their first record, the North Carolina duo showcased their electronic pop fashion and discouraged the use of cellphones, encouraging audience members to focus on dancing instead. Their skills on stage must have struck something in our city, because after releasing their second album, What Now, earlier this year, Sylvan Esso proceeded to sell out two nights at the Crystal Ballroom.
Entering the soon to be packed house, making my way over the Crystal's spring-loaded floor, the stage popped out in the room. Sylvan Esso’s 2015 show saw a fairly simple stage setup: a computer, a single cordless mic and some smaller traffic signal lights as a minimal backdrop. This time, the duo’s production loomed large over the stage; a monster of a fixture comprised of metal arrows lined with neon pointed outward, encapsulating more lights that moved independently from each other. Even before it was lit, it was impressive.
In front of the lighting was a single table with a zebra print cloth, a MacBook and an electric guitar. As the room continued to fill, the night’s opening act, Flock of Dimes, took the stage to claim these items as her own.
Flock of Dimes is the electropop solo project of Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner. As a collaborator and friend of the headliners, it made sense for her to be on tour with them. Wasner began with a laid-back track drenched in celestial vocal effects. It brought the attention of the room 100% to the stage, silencing the mindless chatter of the crowd and filling the gap with beautiful songs. Having captured the audience, Wasner threw her act into full throttle, kicking in some beats and demonstrating her skills as a solo artist.
Flock of Dimes played through a nearly 45-minute set that was equally beautiful in sound as it was in sight, Wasner soaked in the soft backlit glow of the onstage lights. Not once did the attention of the crowd fall away from her, even as she stopped to speak to the crowd, speaking about our country’s rough political atmosphere to introduce “The Joke.”
As soon as Wasner had closed out her set with a gorgeous cover of Annie Lennox’s “No More I Love You’s,” the table, computer and guitar were whisked away and replaced with a much more complex set of computers, keyboards and switches.
The venue was now packed with fans awaiting the arrival of Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn. They didn’t have to wait too long, as the lights soon dimmed down and Sanborn took his place behind the boards, moving straight into their new album’s opening track, “Sound.”
With each synth note, a neon beam on the light fixture illuminated itself, until the entirety of the production was lit, basking the whole of the room in a bright glow while Meath hopped on stage in her platform heels, grasping the mic and kicking off a dance party.
A constant in their sets, Sylvan Esso launched into a track off their freshman album, “Could I Be.” Immediately, the Crystal Ballroom’s floor met its purpose. The room shook beneath the crash of jumping feet, as voices in unison sung out alongside Meath’s delicate words: “I’m covered in soot/I’m covered in skin…”
Meath’s soft yet powerful voice meshed flawlessly with Sanborn’s unique electronic backgrounds, an array of sounds that included static, synth drops, clever beats and samples of Meath’s prerecorded vocals.
As the chorus of “Kick Jump Twist” came around, the monster of metal and light flashed bright, producing colorful beams of light with the focus of a laser light show. Strobes reflected on the metal of the arrows, lighting up the stage to showcase Meath’s captivating dance moves that were as fluid as they were robotic. Losing himself in the beats, Sanborn swayed and shuffled about, using his entire body as a visualizer for the sounds.
And the crowd collectively lost their minds. The Crystal Ballroom became a glowing, moving rave. Fans jumped, banged their heads and bumped into one another as they exhibited pure energy and joy.
It was obvious in these moments that Sylvan Esso absolutely love what they do. As they lost themselves in the rhythm, dancing to their own sounds and riffing off each others moves, the sparks in their eyes contained joy. Not once did it look like work to them.
We danced and we sang together. We forgot our lives and basked in the lights and sounds of the night. And even moving forward, leaving the band and that magnificently bright stage, we remembered the glow.