Sylvan Esso performs Thursday at Thompson’s Point in Portland. Photo by Graham Tolbert

As sure as the emergence of Florida license plates around town, one of the early signs of summer’s imminent arrival occurred Thursday when a high-energy performance by electronic duo Sylvan Esso launched the State Theatre Presents’ 2022 slate of concerts at Thompson’s Point in Portland.

Although COVID-19 hasn’t yet receded from our landscape, the local promoters are making up for two years of canceled concerts, lost jobs and venues, and overall uncertainty by booking their most ambitious calendar yet – currently at 22 shows through mid-September.

Sylvan Esso kicked it off on the brisk May evening, with wind aggressively blowing off the Fore River. Fortunately, the North Carolina duo offered up a generous set of dance-pop to help keep their fans moving.

Sylvan Esso comprises singer Amelia Meath and producer Nick Sanborn, two musicians who started their careers in the Appalachian roots trio Mountain Man and the folk-rock band Megafaun, respectively. They began their collaboration in the 2010s, shedding the indie earth tones of their earlier bands for a glistening synth-pop sound, indebted to 1980s acts such as the Eurythmics but updated with a modern sheen that streaming algorithms love, rewarding them with some eye-popping numbers on Spotify.

Their evolution from organic to electronic felt manifest in how they took to the stage at Thompson’s Point: While Meath sung “What If” (the opening track of their 2020 album “Free Love”) offstage, her voice was filtered through heavy autotune and seemed to emanate from a grid of LCD lights.

Amelia Meath of the electronic duo Sylvan Esso interacts with the crowd at Thompson’s Point on Thursday for the venue’s first show of the season. Photo by Graham Tolbert

It would be one of only a few downtempo moments of the whole evening. The set featured a wide range of bouncing beats and a natural flow of highs and lows, oftentimes with one song cooling off and spilling over into the next. Meath engaged the crowd enthusiastically, hopping about as if nobody present was a bigger fan of their music than her.

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At one point early in the set, they cut the music and lights, and the two of them danced furiously to the silence, dramatically silhouetted by the twilight before they brought the music back. The LED grid lights created a sleek, science-fiction-like presence, painting their songs in bright colors. When the lights were turned low, the audience picked up the slack by waving their phones in the air with the flashlight apps turned on.

They rewarded the audience for their zeal with numerous crowd favorites, including their breakthrough hit “Hey Mami,” their new single “Sunburn,” the frenetic “Numb,” and “Kick Jump Twist” (with the line “the highway, an airport” sung before a highway and airport, perhaps for the first time).

Sanborn deployed a wide variety of percussive sounds throughout; even though the songs and staging were minimalist, it never grew stale or repetitive. It was bright, youthful, energetic music – the kind of thing you might see near the end of the day at Coachella. Here, it marked the beginning of a promising summer to come.

Robert Ker is a freelance writer in Portland. He can be reached at [email protected].


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