Thanks to a varied musical catalog, a high-energy stage presence and a stirring light show, electronic duo Sylvan Esso made their concert — for a crowd of 6,000 in Washington, D.C. — feel like a headlining set at Coachella. Or, at least, what I imagine a headlining set at Coachella to be like.
The duo opened their July 26 set at The Anthem with one of their more low-key, slow tracks, “Sound,” as low lighting accompanied the gentle touches of producer Nick Sanborn and the sultry utterances of vocalist Amelia Meath. The duo then transitioned into the aggressive, staccato “Dreamy Bruises,” setting a strong tone for the rest of their lively performance.
Meath rocked the small stage with the prowess of a pop star on a stadium tour. Donning a black bodysuit with bold floral accents along the neck and leg holes, she let the music flow through her in seemingly unchoreographed dances, feeding off the energy of the room. As Meath pranced and writhed around the front of the stage, her vocals never wavering at the expense of her movement, Sanborn intensely focused on his beats and bounced along with the same enthusiasm of the adoring crowd.
Sanborn and Meath, who hail from Durham, North Carolina, started Sylvan Esso in 2013. The comfort and chemistry between them — the key component of the synergistic show — was most prominent before they performed one of their first singles, “Hey Mami.” They shared smiles and whispers as he helped her find the opening a cappella notes of the track.
Sylvan Esso’s on-your-feet energy was in sharp contrast to opener Moses Sumney’s low and slow set, in which he performed tracks from his debut album “Aromanticism” along with a then-unreleased track “Rank & File.” Sumney stood in place for his entire performance, and most of his songs sounded incredibly similar to each other. He made up for his lack of physical energy with a jarring vocal range and a DIY, one-man-band style performance that made his musical genius apparent.
Instead of having a consistent opening act on their tour, Esso is bringing in different artists for each show. Although Sumney’s music is impressive, his performance wasn’t suited for the hubbub of The Anthem, and he didn’t prepare the crowd for the duo’s vibrance.
Meath showed impeccable vocal control and talent during Esso’s hour-and-a-half-long set. Both she and Sanborn occasionally added elements to their songs not heard in studio recordings — the non-stop musical transition from airy and lighthearted “Wolf” into dark and emotional “Uncatena” was the most powerful example of such creativity.
The duo closed their initial set with the infectiously happy “Radio,” only to return for a three-song encore. An ethereal rainbow light show accompanied the gentle performance of “Rewind,” one of their more intimate tracks.
They ended the concert in the best way possible, performing “Play It Right” from their 2014 self-titled album, which Meath said was the first song she and Sanborn ever wrote together as Sylvan Esso. The duo performed the angsty, bouncy song with exuberance that left an air of positivity among the crowd after the curtain closed — a feeling emblematic of their entire time on stage.