Sylvan Esso Touch on Mainstream Pop and Indie Roots in Portland (SHOW REVIEW)

On Wednesday, August 16th Sylvan Esso played a nearly sold out show at the Crystal Ballroom in downtown Portland. The North Carolina-based indie pop duo are known for their catchy lyrics and fun danceable beats. Their music is for indie fans that also like electronic music but want a bit more substance. In recent years their crowd has become a bit younger, more pop centric and less indie.

Amelia Meath, the vocalist of the duo, has a style that is both soulful and powerful. Her voice carries the music in a way that is at once haunting and joyful. In 2012 she met Nick Sanborn and the two slowly formed a band. Nick’s style can be called playful and eccentric. His beats are easy to dance to and they complement Amelia. He clearly experiments with unique and psychedelic sounds while never stealing the show. In fact, Nick could probably stand to hit the crowd a little harder and take his place on stage a little louder.

The crowd in Portland on Wednesday was young, very young. Half of the venue was split, via a security monitored barrier, between those of drinking age and all ages, and the all ages side was far more crowded. It’s not a stretch to say that the duo’s recent album, What Now, has garnered them both a larger and younger fan base. The album contains hits like “Die Young,” “Radio,” and “Kick Jump Twist,” that have seen extensive air time on Clear Channel affiliates and other pop stations. The effect was clear. When playing older material the crowd was rather subdued while enjoying Amelia’s incredible vocal stylings, but once they kicked off the first few notes of the new stuff the crowd went wild. The vibes turned from an enjoyable dance party to a near rave-like frenzy. Interestingly the duo found a balance between their older material and their new stuff and the show seemed to ebb and flow between the two.

Progress is always encouraged, however, it’s a sad thing to see a band go from breaking new ground musically to appeasing the pop loving teen masses. While the show was actually quite good it was obvious that the band has found a new direction. This direction will lead them further from their indie roots and more into the pop spotlight, which will obviously be more successful, commercially. Amelia’s talent is undeniable and her lovely voice is one that should not be missed. Although, it would be nice to see them get back to their roots and play music that is off-kilter, hard to sell, and, frankly, different.

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