Header photo by DL Anderson
This past Tuesday night, I continued my foray into the Arizona music scene with a trip to Tucson’s Club Congress to see North Carolina electro-pop duo Sylvan Esso. The venue itself is situated in the historic Hotel Congress, which has a lovely restaurant and separate bar area in addition to the club itself. Since I was running a bit late, I didn’t spend too much time exploring, choosing instead to head straight to the stage area. The room was sparsely populated at that point, about 30 minutes before the show was set to begin, but it gradually filled in, and there were clearly some fans there who had come to see the opening act, Portland-based band Dana Buoy.
Headed by frontman Dana Janssen, formerly of experimental rock band Akron/Family, Dana Buoy is an indie-rock act that mixes hints of warm West Coast sunshine in with their heavily psychedelic leanings. They opened the show with the expansive ‘Let Go Awhile’, which boded well for the rest of their set, but during their second number, ironically called ‘So Lucky’, things began to fall apart a bit. Janssen broke a guitar string (the low E, for those of you who care to know), and though he finished the song, he had to ask his bandmates, bass/keys man Justin Miller and drummer Logan Corcoran, to do an extended instrumental vamp while he changed it for a new one. The relatively sparse ‘Isla Mujeres’ was plagued a bit by the hastily tuned string, and Corcoran had some issues throughout the set with a rickety snare and cymbal, but he band were able to find a placid groove by the middle of their surprisingly lengthy opening set. They played a mix of brand new tracks and older favorites, including a nifty cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Everywhere’, which features on recent EP ‘Preacher’, before closing with ‘Satellite Ozone’, from 2012 album ‘Summer Bodies’.
At the end of Dana Buoy’s set, the crowd in the small venue tangibly swelled, pushing toward the front of the room for the eagerly awaited entrance of the headline act. With no live instruments other than singer Amelia Meath’s velvety voice, Sylvan Esso’s stage arrangement is almost ridiculously simple; it took more time for Dana Buoy to clear off the stage than it did for Sylvan Esso to set up.
Is there still any debate as to whether the computer is a musical instrument? Producer Nick Sanborn put the question to rest right away, using only a rather spare looking electronic array to put down the rhythm tracks and sonic effects behind Meath’s lyrical stylings on the hot popular hit ‘Hey Mami’. Throughout the set, Sanborn turned knobs and manipulated sounds with an amazing degree of precision and technical skill, especially considering the rhythmic complexity of some of the duo’s tracks.
Sanborn’s previous experience in electronic music was fairly obvious (his solo project, Made of Oak, is pure electro), but Meath’s background in a cappella folk music seemed much farther removed from Sylvan Esso as I watched her onstage. Her sensual vocals and and saucy dance moves played to the visceral sensibilities of the crowd, who had come to get their groove on despite the tight space. Meath not only sang the liquid lyrical lines, but also displayed impressive physical prowess as she very gracefully gyrated and undulated through the dance beats in a pair of 4-inch platform soled boots. Sanborn’s dance moves, performed as he hunched over his computer, were markedly more rigid, but rather in keeping with the pair’s constant juxtaposition of organic and electronic elements.
Meath and Sanborn played through almost the entirety of their debut self-titled album, which was only released in the spring of this year on Partisan Records. Despite the relative newness of their songs, the punters in the crowd were clearly familiar with the tunes, singing along with Meath’s sexy rendering of the borrowed line “my baby does the hanky panky” in the addictive single ‘Coffee’ and her crooning “oohs” in hypnotic track ‘Wolf’.
Sylvan Esso closed the night with the track that started their collaboration, ‘Play It Right’, which was originally written for Meath’s folk trio, Mountain Man. Recontextualized by Sanborn, the song takes flight in live performance, and it left the crowd chanting for more. Unfortunately, the duo didn’t have more to give; being a new band with only one album to play from, they had by that point exhausted their repertoire. Sylvan Esso’s free trading collaboration has been abundantly fruitful in a short amount of time, and if the response at Club Congress is any indication, their audience would clearly love to hear it continue.
Sylvan Esso will tour the UK and Ireland beginning this September. Stay tuned to TGTF for a full list of tour dates.
After the cut: Dana Buoy and Sylvan Esso’s set lists.
Continue reading Live Review: Sylvan Esso with Dana Buoy at Club Congress, Tucson, AZ – 19th August 2014