Halftime Leisure

Synth and Serenity: Sylvan Esso takes the Howard Theatre

September 17, 2014

Walking down U Street towards the Howard Theatre’s classic, regal exterior, I saw the awakening signs of the neighborhood’s dynamic nightlife. I arrived 30 minutes before doors opened, and a thirty-person line had already formed. Thanks to some very kind fellow Hoyas, I ended up third in line to walk in.

Considering that the theater is a historic venue, the interior was a surprise to me. Sleek wood paneling, leather lounge couches and booths, modern architecture, and glaring TV screens exuded a nightclub feel rather than the indie music venue I had been expecting. Hidden behind this showy exterior were numerous tribute pictures that lined the walls pointed to the theater’s R&B, Motown-era roots to remind concert-goers of its rich history.

An important thing to know about the theater is that there is no crowd divider. Because of this luxury, I was lucky enough to spend the show leaning against the stage, three feet from the performance.

The opener of the show, Doe Paoro, was a indie-synth from Brooklyn. Although their oriental, soul combination was well-mixed, with haunting, powerful vocals, some things did feel off in the overall performance. While Doe’s voice is strong; however, she lacked the confidence her vocals entitled her to. Being so close, I could hear when she stepped back from the microphone and let her raw voice carry through the crowd. Though powerful, she seemed to be thinking too much at times, even faltering if the crowd continued to talk through the opening of a song. Nonetheless, tracks like “Born Whole” will remain on my Spotify. After an overall interesting half an hour with Doe Paoro, Sylvan Esso finally emerged.

What surprised me most was their plain and simple stage set-up. A synthesizer, a keyboard, two microphones and a MacBook was all this North Carolina duo needed. Walking out onto their plain, black backdrop, Amelia Meath and her five-inch platform sneakers bring a smile to everyone in the crowd. She gives Nick Sanborn a playful smile and delves right into their first track. Throughout the show, the two of them are having the time of their lives. Nick grins ear to ear eagerly awaiting his well-timed synth drops, and Amelia, in her towering platforms, dances like I have never seen anyone dance before. It really is something to see as this quirky duo performs their own version of modern dance and the robot in accordance with their album. I’m not a dancer myself and all it made me want to do is jump around with them. Most of their between-song dialogue is self-deprecating humor and quirky banter between them. Nick joked about missing “the nightclub phase” of his life and being at the Howard theater made him see what he had been missing.


The eccentric pair had a great sense of humor and a welcoming demeanor. They treated the entire concert experience in a very familiar manner. They did not separate themselves from their audience, and you felt like you were listening to two real people who love music as much as their fans. This came to the point that they appeared surprised by the cheers and professions of love from the standing room floor.

Although Sylvan Esso is a fun-loving band, they have a hidden power of musical serenity. There is palpable conviction coming off of these two. These inspired artists will ad-lib where their passion takes them and even begin to emotionally speak the lyrics that reach out to them. The final repeated phrase, “I know what you want” of their opening song “Hey Mami” is cried out to the audience in a more conversational manner than lyrical. The crowd seemed to know and respect this, for on their final song “Come Down,” you could hear a pin drop. The static backing noise on the synth evoked a solemn mood in all listeners as the crowd wished to cling on to the three fleeting minutes of beauty in Amelia’s deep, bluesy voice.

Voice’s Choices: “Play it Right” “Hey Mami”

Michael Bergin
Mike Bergin is the former executive culture Editor for the Georgetown Voice. You can follow him on Twitter @mbergin95

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