North Carolina’s electronic duo Sylvan Esso truly brought their sound to life with a 10-piece ensemble performance at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. The ensemble consisting of founding members Nick Sanborn and Amelia Meath, synth and bass from Jenn Wasner (Wye Oak), drummers Matt McCaughan (Bon Iver) and Joe Westerlund, guitarist Meg Duffy (Hand Habits), horn player Adam Schatz and backing vocalists Molly Sarle and Alexandra Sauser-Monnig (both of Mountain Man with Meath), came together beautifully, mastering challenging rhythms and near-perfect harmonies.
Their hour-and-a-half-long set alternated between soft and delicate in the vocals and instrumentals, to powerful and booming sounds. Amelia Meath danced around the stage in a translucent pink billowing jumpsuit and platform sneakers. LED square light panels surrounded the band, providing a colorful and mesmerizing back-lit show that went along rhythmically with the music.
The band opened with the mysterious “Come Down,” with just Meath and Sanborn on stage. Slowly the rest of the band members joined them as the harmonies filled out and the large tile square lights softly began to shine. Bass-forward songs like “Wolf” and “Hey Mami” had everyone out of their chairs and dancing. The strict no-photography or video policy inside the hall allowed fans to be present and hands up free of electronic devices that so commonly block everyone’s view. Meath took advantage of the circular seating and waved to every part of the packed crowd inside the grad hall, including those who were watching from behind.
Disney Hall is a vast hall to fill but is famous for its impeccable acoustics. Meath’s voice filled the hall beautifully, and each of the player’s contributions was heard clearly. The wailing horns played by Adam Schatz at the end of songs like the anthemic “Die Young” and the powerful “Coffee” had the crowd cheering for more and dancing out of their seats again. “This is the first public outing of these songs and this band,” Sanborn shared excitedly as they performed a few brand new songs including “Ring” and “Ferris Wheel.” “This song is about how I like girls too,” Meath said followed by cheers from the crowd before they went into another anthem, “PARAD(w/m)E.” “Slack Jaw” showcased Meath’s softer side with a soft vocal melody over a piano and a droning accordion. A true highlight was a hair-raising belting vocal at the end of “Uncatena,” which left everyone wanting to prolong the experience.
Their set ended too softly for it to be over after playing “Rewind,” so the crowd stood patiently awaiting the band’s return for an encore. “Play It Right” was a final chance for the audience to get up in their chairs and dance along. They ended their set with “Sound,” which featured beautiful harmonies and electronic clicking sounds that Bon Iver and Oneohtrix point never would approve of.
“This is cool, thanks for coming on time,” Meg Duffy said to the crowd during their 30-minute opening set as Hand Habits. Their dreamy, folky sounds filled the hall as they played songs off their new album, Placeholder. “It’s been pretty surreal to be part of a magical group of people…” they said, referring to their participation in Sylvan Esso’s full band. The group was set up in an arc with only Meg Duffy standing, leaving the audience to wander their focus. Songs like “Placeholder” were wavy and dreamy, while “All The While” showcased Duffy’s guitar work a little more. “This song is about a person who’s very important to me,” Duffy said before “Jessica,” which featured a soft sax solo.
This was the first of two performances from Sylvan Esso and Hand Habits at Disney Hall, kicking off Sylvan Esso’s “WITH” tour across the U.S. Opening acts will include Flock of Dimes, Daughter of Swords and Molly Sarle, and is set to finish in their hometown of Durham, North Carolina.
Sylvan Esso setlist:
Play It Right
Photo Credit Kalyn Oyer