Pop-electronica pair Sylvan Esso stopped by The Jefferson Theater for two shows Thursday and Friday nights and did not disappoint. There was tangible excitement for the indie act and both nights were sold out performances. At the Friday show, latin-electronica one-piece Helado Negro, the stage name for Roberto Carlos Lange, kicked things off at 9 p.m. with a 45-minute set highlighted by the singer’s “friends” — two silent dancers wearing costumes made of what appeared to be tons of silver confetti.
Wearing a “Young, Latin and Proud” shirt of his own making, Lange made an impression with his outfit as well. Over the course of his performance, Lange’s magnetic voice was on full display, coupled with an eclectic mix of synths and percussion. Although the sound could have been mixed better, the minimalist tunes accompanied by the interestingly costumed dancers made for an odd yet fun opening act.
Once Lange and his posse cleared the stage, concertgoers waited another 30 minutes until Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn of Sylvan Esso took the stage. Sanborn, at first standing alone on stage in a blue C’ville-heart t-shirt, finally broke into their set with “Sound.” Meath soon joined him in a slow walk to center stage, wearing platform combat boots and a slim tank. The slower-tempo opener wasn’t indicative of the tone for the rest of the show, as Meath and Sanborn kept the energy high for the remaining 15 songs of their set.
After “Sound,” the duo launched into a lesser known track, “Dreamy Bruises,” before jumping into a few of their hits. Although it was only their sixth song of the night, their current hit “Die Young” brought the house down early, with Meath showing off her vocal chops and range. The rest was a balance of their smash hits — “Coffee” and “Just Dancing” were highlights — and their lesser-known material, like “Uncatena.” The hits obviously resonated the most with the crowd, but the audience remained engaged even with the music they did not know well.
Perhaps the biggest reasons for the crowd’s high level of engagement were the performers’ high energy and visible enthusiasm. Sanborn, the producer of the duo, stood at a table of synthesizers while engrossed in the music, his body pulsing and moving to the rhythm. While Sanborn was a great complement to the overall energy of the show, it was Meath who captivated the audience’s attention. Her style of dance and performance can only be described as “confidently carefree” — lithe, energetic, sometimes over-the-top and undeniably enjoyable.
It would be easy to conclude that playing such a demanding, high-energy set every night would become old and the performers would start to phone it in. But in a rarity for popular electronic music, Sanborn and Meath both looked to be having genuine fun on stage. At one point in the show, Meath began a seemingly random howling call-and-response with the crowd before jumping into a rendition of “Wolf.” A few songs later, she put her all into “Radio,” a cynical rumination on American pop culture and the music industry. The song also underscores Sylvan Esso’s refreshing subversion of traditional electronica norms, a likely reason so many Jefferson Theater attendees were enthralled with the performers.
After closing out the show with an encore of “Rewind” and “Play It Right,” Sanborn and Meath stood to tremendous applause before graciously exiting the stage. Following their extended stay in Charlottesville, the duo left to finish the final three months of their tour.