If there’s one thing I’m a bit iffy on with Red Bull Sound Select’s #30DaysInLA series, it’s the tendency for the headliners to not go on stage until really late at night.
I realize they are trying to get people in the doors to see the opening acts — as Red Bull put together this concert series for really cheap tickets in an effort to highlight artists they’re trying to “break” (hence the blue fluorescent BREAK MUSIC signs you’ll see at all of these events throughout November). But looking around the Fonda Theatre, you could see people were growing anxious as 11 pm approached and electro-folk darlings Sylvan Esso hadn’t taken the stage yet.
After opening sets from AKUA and Race Banyon, Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn finally took the stage together at 11:20 pm. They didn’t waste any time, jumping right into the elevator beats of “Could I Be.” The last show of a nearly two-year tour, by this time fans were familiar with even the non-singles from their debut self-titled album. People let loose and the energy picked up right from the first song, never wavering despite the show not ending until 12:30 am.
Four songs in, the familiar dreamy lead-in to “Coffee” began and the crowd went nuts, pulling their camera phones out in anticipation of the song that put this Durham, North Carolina duo on the map. It’s maybe the only electronic music you’ll hear in a Starbucks — the chill vibes and poetic songwriting and singing of Meath at the forefront of Sanborn’s spectacularly minimal mixing.
The two threw in a couple of songs that are hopefully to be included on the next album, “Dance” and “Radio.” I had seen Sylvan Esso at five of the many music festivals I attended this year and have grown fond of both of these new tracks with each performance. They have definitely expanded into a more fuller sound with these songs. If crowd reaction was any indication, both of these songs could be dance club bangers in the future.The latter features an aggressive chorus of Meath singing we’re a “slave to the radio.”
After a venture into new territory, the duo returned to what got them where they’re at with “Hey Mami,” perhaps my favorite track of Sylvan Esso’s — and undoubtedly the most fun to sing in a large crowd, if you know all the words. The building vocals of Meath singing, “Hey mami, you know you want mami” leads so perfectly right into her sing-songy rap-like vocals about getting cat-called. When Sanborn’s deep-bass beat drops on the second verse, the crowd exploded.
As good as the recording is, Sylvan Esso’s music ranks as a favorite to see in a big crowd of people. Meath and Sanborn have so much fun on stage, the energy transfers straight into the crowd. You’re simply missing out if you haven’t seen Meath’s adorably smooth dance moves direct a crowd full of people.
The bass-heavy “Play it Right” concluded their set before a two-song encore capped by the slow tune “Come Down.” That would be what played over my speakers as my head hit my pillow right as I got home. During “Play it Right,” Sanborn crowdsurfed off the stage, singing along to Meath’s final chorus. A group behind me tried crowdsurfing their friend, a tiny girl who went forward about ten feet before taking a tumble (hope you’re OK!).
It’s pretty incredible to see the support Sylvan Esso has managed to obtain in the past few years, given the “electro-folk” tag they get hit with is so niche. But a lot of it has to do with who they are as performers. I know many who were curious how their sound would translate to a large festival setting — only to leave blown away by how the experience somehow elevates. There are few artists I’m more excited to see where they go next.
Opener AKUA has a really incredible voice, but I was sort of being lulled into sleep by the chill vibes she inspired with her live mixing. I’m not saying I didn’t like it, just knowing that I had two more hours before Sylvan Esso was taking the stage, the last thing I wanted was to start drifting off. It took a Red Bull late in the set to get me to the night’s finish line. I was impressed enough that I’ll check out some of her music.
Race Banyon’s DJ set was a similar down-tempo vibe. There were definite peaks — like the mix of Craig David’s “Fill Me In” — though I felt old when I seemed to be the only one stoked to hear that throwback track. If you’re a fan of Jamie XX, this should be right down your alley.
To think that Sylvan Esso was opening for the TuneYards not long ago at this same Fonda Theatre and sold out this show in “one afternoon,” as Meath noted, was impressive. They’ve been a joy to track for the past year at festivals across the U.S. and it was about time I got to see them on their own stage. It met all expectations and was clearly worth not getting to sleep until 1 am.
Words: Mark E. Ortega