On Saturday night, Sylvan Esso (and opener Helado Negro) took the stage at the Jefferson Theater in Charlottesville. Unfamiliar with the bands, I entered the venue with zero expectations. But by night’s end, awash in a flurry of light effects and dizzied by monstrous costume designs, I had become a new fan of both bands.
The opener, Helado Negro, began with a bang. Helado Negro’s frontman, Roberto Carlos Lange, walked onstage followed by a trio of monsters covered head-to-toe in silvery tinsel. Immediately, Lange drenched the crowd in heavy reverb, singing in both Spanish and English behind a wall of pulsating electro-rock. The monsters danced and gyrated to the slowly-growing beat like a page torn from Where the Wild Things Are. Helado Negro’s set was minimalistic in design but inventive in execution, leaving the audience equal-parts dancing and confused. Still, despite the ridiculousness of Helado Negro’s act, one could not deny that its flashiness was backed by technical prowess.
A short intermission gave the crowd some time to collect themselves before Sylvan Esso came out. Compared to the jarring sounds of Helado Negro, Sylvan Esso were like an ear salve, bathed in soothing synths and airy vocals. Both band members, Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn, were able to engage the crowd throughout their set. Meath never hesitated to crack jokes or dive into anecdotes, and when she danced, she was floating across the stage like some ghostly apparition. This effect was aided by the tremendous lighting effects–a bunch of LEDs shaped like Chevron’s arrows that faced towards the audience. The soft illumination of the crowd invited us to partake in Esso’s music and we were super-involved, singing along throughout, especially for singles such as “Wolf”. All in all, Esso’s smooth-edged electronica was a perfect match for the accompanying light show, and seemed especially effective amidst the regal splendor of the Jefferson Theater.
All in all I had a great time. The monsters, the lights–kinetic energy was everywhere. It left no doubt: Sylvan Esso and Helado Negro are going places.