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Photo courtesy of Bailey Malcolm of Centre Arts. Sylvan Esso on stage at Van Duzer Theatre on Aug. 28.

Sylvan Esso Electrifies the Van Duzer

Indie Icons reignite music scene.

by Monica Robinson and Andrés Felix Romero

Under the indie music umbrella lies the popular eccentric duo, Sylvan Esso. The band fuses electronic, folk and pop. Originally from Durham, North Carolina, singer Amelia Meath (35) and producer Nick Sanborn (40) played in Humboldt County for the first time at Cal Poly’s Van Duzer Theatre on August 28th. The band formed in 2013 and released their debut self-titled album a year later. Since then, they married in 2016 and have released five albums.

I was beside myself when I heard them playing “Die Young” from their second album, “What Now,” as I walked through the doors during soundcheck backstage. Being the fan I am, I immediately started singing and dancing on my way to my seat.

People of all ages – from kids to adults – were there grooving along. The stadium was packed. A lady tapped me on my shoulder and asked if her daughter could stand on my seat. I was happy to give her a better view, so I grabbed my things and b-lined to the balcony.

At the balcony, my favorite song, “Dress,” off their first album, started playing. The theater’s acoustics emanated the howling songbird of Meath’s voice and the crunching technicolor synth of Sanborn. 

The funky duo that makes up Sylvan Esso fits in perfectly with Humboldt’s eccentric culture. Meath sported a bleached mullet and wore a leather two-piece and accompanying mesh gown at the beginning of the show that gave her an appearance similar to a singing phantom. Sanborn’s brown khakis and oversized long-sleeved shirt reminded me of the outfits you’d see freshman wear in the Canyon dorms. At one point, Meath disappeared backstage during one of Sanborn’s solos, only to reappear in an outfit that resembled a giant multicolored loofah, in which she danced happily.

Meath’s dance moves showed her skills not only as a singer, but a performer as well, invoking infectious feelings of freedom. There was a lovely moment between the married artists where Meath couldn’t help but smile as she sung their songs and stared into her partner’s eyes.

The set had a delightful amount of variety. It could be loud and poppy or could slow down and swoon the audience hypnotically. The dreamy kaleidoscopic lights and visuals kept up with the mood of the set.

Concert-goer Mike Hanson and his partner were visiting Arcata for the first time from Brooklyn, NY. Hanson has been a fan for a decade.

 “Since it was at a college, we didn’t know what we were walking into,” Hanson said.

He was giggling while scanning the crowd of students and realized he was the same age as them ten years ago, when he would blast Sylvan Esso’s first album in his car smoking a blunt. 

Nostalgia is why Allison Walstrom came to the show. “Die Young” brought tears to her eyes as it reminded her of her ex.  She cringed and laughed. 

“When you think about it, what a twisted relationship song,” Walstrom said. 

Walstrom moved to Humboldt County in 2005 and pointed out how this was the first time it felt like a show from back in the day in Humboldt. I couldn’t agree more. Once the black market cannabis industry began its descent around six years ago, the big names in music rarely came anymore because Humboldt’s economy declined. 

The university is finally reawakening Humboldt’s music scene again. At the end of last semester, I was excited to see a long-time favorite band, Portugal the Man, in the parking lot behind the Gist Hall. Another big name, Thundercat, will be playing soon at the Van Duzer Theatre on September 29th. Safe to say, people are looking forward to crushing good music again in Humboldt County. 

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