Arts

Field Report & Sylvan Esso: from Midwestern pride to party vibes

Sylvan Esso's Amelia Meath performs at their sold-out show.

Image By: Katie Scheidt

Milwaukee-based band Field Report opened for the energetic and always-boisterous Sylvan Esso Wednesday night, part of a two-night event at the Majestic. The group, whose founding members have roots with Justin Vernon and Bon Iver, played a short set of entirely new music. Lead singer Chris Porterfield performed with surprising animation. New music, which was captivating alone, was accompanied by quirky hand gestures and expressions. Give or take a few chatty crowd members, the band’s unique presence on stage lent itself to a more attentive audience for an opening band than I’m used to seeing.

Stand-out tracks from their set were “Summertime” and “Every Time,” which were much more reminiscent of their earlier music. While other tracks from the set were much brighter and upbeat in tone, these two songs had the same soaring melodies and powerful hooks that drew me to Field Report’s music in the first place. The band’s first two albums, Field Report and Marigolden, are filled with melancholy instrumentals, wispy vocals and haunting songwriting. Hearing this familiar sound in “Summertime” and “Every Time” alleviated some of the disappointment I felt in not hearing any of their older songs.

What I love the most about Field Report’s music is that it is chilling enough to make a stuffy concert hall feel like standing in front of Lake Michigan in early winter. Their harmonies and simplistic instrumentals are harsh yet refreshing. The Milwaukee band captures the sounds of the city they call home and turns them into images that are oftentimes difficult to put into words. Like similar folk and alternative bands from Wisconsin and Minnesota, they encapsulate that odd Midwestern pride, the pride that makes you stand tall and say “I’m from [insert town here], born and raised.” And maybe it’s because this band makes me pine for the hometown we share, but when I heard their short set at the Majestic, I saw a piece of home on the stage in spite of their shifting sound.

- By Katie Scheidt

It was as if some magic fumes urging the crowd to dance emanated from the speakers along with the indie electronic beats of Sylvan Esso.

The duo, comprised of Amelia Meath on vocals and Nick Sanborn mixing electronic noise, maintained a high level of energy throughout their second sold-out show at the Majestic Theatre Wednesday. Even during their first song, “Sound”—the opening track off their new album, What Now—which is a short piece with simple synth beats that highlight angelic harmonizing vocal loops from Meath, the excitement in the room began to skyrocket as the singer waltzed into the spotlight to join her bandmate.

Their setup was simple—Meath swayed on one side of the stage and squeezed a handheld microphone while Sanborn primarily remained glue to his soundboard—but their vibes, along with the well-designed lighting that fluctuated with every bass-drop Sanborn made with the twist of a dial, filled the entire room.

I am not yet completely pleased by the group’s latest album—the shift from the chill, low-key synth that makes up their self-titled first release to the party-vibe, top 40 pop feelings on What Now is a difficult adjustment for a longtime fan like myself—and was, therefore, ecstatic that the duo’s setlist was comprised of an even mix of older and newer songs. Their new, opening song flowed seamlessly into “Dreamy Bruises,” which began with what seemed like technical difficulties with Sanborn’s sound, but he and Meath laughed it off and exhibited the quirky dynamic they are known for.

Meath especially showcased skilled dance moves—all while wearing thick, tall platform space boots—that seemed to be infectious to the crowd. She strutted her stuff during their next tune, their hit single “Kick Jump Twist,” which was my personal favorite song of the show; I felt as though I was at a house party with crazy lights surrounded by people that actually have good taste in music.

After playing “Dress,” a track off their first album, they shared three jams from their new discography. This led into what is, according to their most-played songs list on Spotify and my personal opinion, their most popular song, “Coffee.” Sanborn took up a mic and joined Meath to harmonize a couple verses, and the precious eye contact made between the artists drew everyone in attendance into their iconic connection. Their humbleness was also evident as they smiled shyly and repeatedly thanked the raving audience for selling out the show and being welcoming.

Following a couple more songs which highlighted Sanborn’s enthralling electronic notes, they performed their first and only slow song of the evening, “Slack Jaw” off of What Now, which Meath explained as “a quiet song about the human condition.” The motion stopped and lights faded to a deep blue glow and jolted the audience out of their sweaty dancing stupor.

The duo ended with three other songs from Sylvan Esso and another single, “Radio,” from their new album, which struck the final chord. However, they were summoned back by the inevitable encore call from the standing crowd to play “Rewind” from What Now and an old favorite of mine, “Play It Right.” Until this show, I couldn’t tell you the last time I wasn’t ready for a concert to end. This was the first show in months that I thoroughly enjoyed myself and didn’t hold back on my middle-aged dad-dancing. Meath and Sanborn entertained me and the crowd of hundreds for the full 90 minutes they held the stage, and they exited with promises to come back soon—a promise I certainly hope they keep.

- By Sammy Gibbons

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