Photos by Neil Van.
The job of any good fitness instructor is to energize their class, get them moving, limber and working up a sweat. Sylvan Esso’s Amelia Meath embodied that spirit Tuesday night at the Phoenix.
Opening their set with sophomore album, What Now’s opening-track “Sound” a dizzying, glitchy number, Nick Sanborn anchored the set from behind a laptop and small set of controllers. Sporting platform shoes, fitted workout gear and a high ponytail, Meath lead an energetic crowd in a feel-good workout, slowly turning the crowd to 11.
Throughout the night like a seasoned instructor Meath with Sanborn’s quick hands used the repetitive tactic building from stripped down vocals, giving the audience a moment to catch their collective breath before kicking into high gear with climatic dance choruses that packed a bigger punch live. By the duo’s method, if you weren’t breaking a sweat, you weren’t having fun.
Highlights like “H.S.K.T.” pushed beyond nursery rhyme lyrics to a hypnotic dancefloor banger, leading the mass dance party was Meath, swaying, bopping and jumping to Sanborn’s pulsing beats. Meath’s charismatic vocals were on full display throughout the set including the sweltering “Dress,” debut album favourite “Hey Mami” and “Slack Jaw” a rare ballad. The latter offering a brief chance to wipe the sweat from your brow before back into bass-y electronic jams like “Just Dancing.”
Sylvan Esso’s set was cathartic, fresh, livelier and larger than their records, shucking the trend of many pop acts relying on programed backing tracks and vocals adhering to sounding identical to their records. Instead Meath and Sanborn opted for bigger, brighter and more exhilarating pop that has all the thrill of the biggest pop acts with fewer bells and whistles.
The night’s only flaw may have been Lucy Dacus’ opening folk-rock set, though warm, tight and intimate, it felt out of place with Esso’s dynamic pop. Dacus was a cathartic yoga class versus Sylvan Esso’s high-octane spin class.