Wednesday night I headed into Cambridge, Massachusetts, Boston’s sister city, to catch Sylvan Esso at The Sinclair. It’s a small club and the duo could’ve probably filled a larger one, being that they’ve exploded – especially on college radio – since they booked The Sinclair, but perhaps it’s better to have people crammed in like sardines? It certainly produced a hell of a lot of energy and good vibes last night. But before I talk about Sylvan Esso I must talk about Doe Paoro, the immensely talented woman who opened for them.
Listening to people talk on the way in, it sounded like nobody had ever heard of Doe Paoro before. And, admittedly, neither had I. I would have scoured the web to learn about her prior to the show if they’d advertised who’d be opening, but the first I learned of her name was when I saw it on the sign outside of The Sinclair. But it only took about half of the first song of her set, an intoxicating down-tempo charmer called “Walking Backwards,” to turn me into a fan. Performing with keyboardist/bassist Grant Zubritsky and drummer Sean Hutchinson (who contributed additional keyboards on one song), she crafted a lush and hypnotic wall of sound with bass, well, jumping all over the place. It certainly invigorated the crowd, who followed suit as she swayed and danced all over the small stage, making use of every inch available. Paoro experienced a musical rebirth after a trip to India where she discovered the Tibetan folk opera singing tradition and wound up studying it with a Tibetan instructor. This style featured prominently in new songs from her Ink On The Walls EP like the heavy but elegant “Nobody” and the lively, thought-provoking “Hypotheticals.” In addition to the Tibetan sound, her music was influenced by soul, electro-pop and, perhaps, a little bit of R&B. She was like a cross between early Fiona Apple, ’90’s electro-pop goddess Poe and the best work of My Brightest Diamond, the latter of which I understand she’ll be opening for soon.
Sylvan Esso, otherwise known as the adorably quirky vocalist Amelia Meath and electronic music wizard Nick Sanborn, hit the stage on schedule at 10PM. They opened with a rousing rendition of “Hey Mami,” the delightful and infectious opening track from their self-titled debut. When I reviewed their album back in May of this year, I finished by writing, “There’s certainly going to be a buzz about them sooner than later.” Well, it certainly didn’t take long. And the sold out (I’m assuming) audience last night could not have been more adoring, the majority of the crowd joyfully singing along from the very first song as Meath sang and sprightly danced on thick platform heels like Kiss or Motley Crue used to wear. Listening to their beautiful electro-pop, it was hard to believe that the two were originally making folk music before Meath asked Sanborn to remix a track she had written called “Play It Right.” But once that happened, well, it was clearly kismet and the rest is recent history, the duo getting national attention ever since their record dropped on the 13th of May this year.
Interestingly, the duo played without any live musicians, Sanborn performing the music using a laptop and a few other devices, which I’m assuming included a sampler and a sequencer. During the occasional parts of songs that didn’t require him to be twisting knobs or pressing buttons, he danced and motioned for the crowd to scream, which they kind of did, although most people were too busy dancing their asses off and singing along at the top of their lungs.
“Hey Mami” was followed by the second and third tracks from the album, the fluttery “Dreamy Bruises” and the humming “Could I Be.” During the latter, Meath sang, “And when I come home again my arms will wrap around my friends.” And so it was only fitting that she asked the audience, “Did you guys know that I grew up here?” That sure got a big cheer.
Just when you thought their set list was going to mirror the tracklist of their album entirely, they whipped out their hit “Coffee.” On the album, it’s like a potent double shot of espresso. Live, it’s more like a quad, the bass beating on your chest hard enough to cause heart palpitations. As Meath sang “get up, get down,” the audience sang along so loudly that they were just as sonorous as she was.
Another highlight was “Dress,” which found Meath playfully singing, “You look good in the west, see how you clap those hands,” which naturally had the audience clapping along intensely. Next they howled along to a high octane rendition of “Wolf”: “Ah-woo, ah-woo!”
As the night wound down, they ended their set with that song that started it all, “Play It Right,” which proved to be even more vivacious live than it is on the record where it’s impossible to sit still to already. But, of course, the audience had not had enough and the duo returned to the stage for an encore, the first track being a cover of “Cosmos” by Porches. I’d never heard the original version of the song and now I don’t want to because Meath and Sanborn owned it as they poured themselves into it and I’d rather just think of it as a Sylvan Esso song from now on.
The second and final song of the encore was the sole song from their album that they hadn’t performed yet, the last track, “Come Down.” It’s a gentle if not soothing acapella track – save for a faint hum toward the end – that had the audience exhausting their last bit of energy as they sang along and the dancing gradually came to a stop, ending the night perfectly.
Photos by Carina Tous. Follow her on Instagram: http://instagram.com/daysandhours