There was a look of disbelief in the eyes of Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn from time to time Friday night as they performed a sold-out show at the Hollywood Palladium as Sylvan Esso. The size of the crowd seemed to catch them slightly off guard.
The electro-folk duo are one of the few acts of their kind. Sanborn’s expertise with utilizing minimal production and making every noise count — coupled with Meath’s folksy vocals and elite ability to write a catchy song — make them a rare combination.
I’ve seen Sylvan Esso nearly a dozen times over the years and always came away with how the were able to dazzle large festival crowds early in the day, just the two of them on stage. But I was curious — how would they handle the sprawling almost roller-rink feel of the Hollywood Palladium?
The answer was with flying colors of course. With a sparse rack of lights positioned behind them, the focus was always going to be on the tunes. The lights mimicked the beat of the opening song “Sound”, which doubles as the intro track on their latest record, the excellent sophomore release What Now.
Next up was the extremely popular “Hey Mami”, a song Meath once said is about how cat-calling can be a good and bad thing. The songwriting is in an almost “Semi-Charmed Life” kind of way, where the crowd was catching their breath after reciting each verse. The swagger with which Meath chants the words to this song transferred to the people in the crowd, and they sang along with the same kind of confidence.
“Die Young” is another What Now track that was a highlight of the set. Probably my favorite song of the album, it’s a brilliant love song that is written from an interesting songwriting perspective. Meath nailed the final chorus where she really stretches her vocals out, and it gave me goosebumps.
Though their career-defining single “Coffee” was next, Sylvan Esso is already at a point where they’re not “That duo that sings ‘Coffee'” anymore. With just two albums under their belt they’ve already developed a solid headlining set’s worth of material, each song landing just as much as their big hit.
Meath flexed and posed throughout the set, while Sanborn jammed out behind his gear. The Palladium can get very hot, and halfway through the show everyone around me was covered in sweat. The duo did a great job at building the show towards the set-closing “Radio”, one of the lead singles from the new album and a song they’ve been playing since at least Coachella 2015. In the time since, Sanborn has found ways to include additional layers that aren’t on the album version. The soundscapes in the final minute had the crowd in a trance.
Sylvan Esso returned to the stage for a three-song encore, including “Play It Right,” my favorite cut from their debut album. Meath’s soft singing leads very beautifully into the bass dropping right out of the bottom of the song. At the end of the song, Meath recited “You play it right, I’ll play it right, we’ll play it right, I’ll play it right” over and over before the song and show came to an end.
Everyone left the Palladium satisfied they got their money’s worth. What Sylvan Esso have been able to do with their unique sound and also deliver a compelling live show is phenomenal. Their music continues to become more compelling and there’s no signs of them slowing down.