Sylvan Esso heats up Thomas Wolfe Auditorium in Asheville


I hadn’t planned on being at Sylvan Esso. Truth be told, I hadn’t even planned on being in Asheville. But sometimes your truck doesn’t start, so with time running out on making plans, I decided to head over to their show Friday night at Thomas Wolfe Auditorium.

Sometimes in life you just get lucky, I guess.

I can sense the energy from the crowd behind me from the photo pit. A stage hand comes out to tape down what I assume will be a set list, but when I sneak a peak, it simply says “You da fucking best,” on it. Those words sum up the feeling being generated by the audience better than anything I could write.

Sylvan Esso takes the stage to raucous applause a little after 9 p.m. Nick Sanborn walks out first, laying down the tracks as the space-age light rig behind him slowly comes to life. The diamond echo light pattern raises it’s head like a preying mantis and Amelia Meath takes the stage. The crowd erupts.

Meath dances her way around the stage in 4-inch pumps, all of the time her voice steady, beautiful, and under control, the lights accentuating her every move. This is not a concert in the traditional sense of the word. This is more.

It’s part ballet, part broadway, part rock-and-roll, part pop show. It is wildly entertaining and unapologetically artistic. Sanborn, with his own style and enthusiasm, plays sounds created and recorded in his home. He’s captured a certain humanity through the electronic tones.

The applause gets louder between every song and the intensity of the room ratchets up another level. Early on, they play mainly songs from their new album, What Now, but as the evening progresses, they head back to earlier tracks.

The lighting tech has created a backdrop perfectly suited to the sound, style, and substance of the band. It is never gaudy, never over the top, and yet still one of the more intricate set-ups I’ve seen.

Between the energy and talent of the band, the craftsmanship of the lighting system, and the beauty of the venue itself, the entire production is both sexy and professional. The tiered standing areas and low level lighting create silhouettes of dancers, their short skirts and tight pants and hips moving in the near darkness. The plushness of the carpet and seating areas endow the show with an extra element of class.

And, as expected, the band is magnificent. The electro-pop duo from Durham is pushing the limits of what popular music can be. They’re obviously quite comfortable doing it.

At about 10:35 p.m., they announce they will be playing their last song. Only an hour and 20 minutes of music and everyone exhausted. I can’t imagine how Meath and Sanford must feel. The intensity of their approach is so strong, so powerful and sexually charged that two sets would do nothing but water it down.

They finish out with the song Radio and then, at the behest of the frenzied crowd, return for two more numbers. When they’re done, the crowd continues to chant and scream their love to the stage.

It strikes me that, as a band, these are the fans you want to have, and that shows like tonight are how you earn them.

Caleb Calhoun studied writing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and music at a plethora of clubs and bars across the southeast. He is the host of Soundcheck Radio (Thursday’s 3-5 on 103.7 WPVM) and the publisher of Rosman City Blues. He currently lives on South Slope with his woodland mermaid, Dr. Gonzo.

You can reach him at [email protected] and/or


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