BY SOPHIE MUELLER
The energy in the crowd was electric. The excitement tangible, bouncing off of one another as we all awaited Sylvan Esso, a band that has left their mark with the release of their sophomore album, What Now.
In the anticipation of Sylvan Esso’s arrival onstage, there was a buzz in the audience as friends waved across the theater balcony to one another, creating a friendly and intimate atmosphere in a theater that sat about thirteen hundred people.
Once Sylvan Esso, a duo comprised of Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn, came onstage, the audience truly came to life. Meath appeared in a black sequined leotard and Sanborn a t-shirt and jeans. Claiming their individual space on stage as Meath stayed put on stage right and Sanborn on stage left, they built off of one another’s energy. At times the lighting would dim, emphasizing the silhouettes of the duo from opposite sides of the stage and played off of different rhythms, beats, and melodies in each song. At the conclusion of each track, the psychedelic lights would black out, leaving everyone in complete and utter darkness while also giving us some time to process the greatness on stage.
Amelia’s dance moves won the night as she threw in fist pumps and kicked the air each time the bass dropped. She controlled the crowd with her powerful and sharp voice that commanded one’s attention.
One of the standouts of the night was “PARAD(w/m)E.” As soon as the first beat started, everyone in the audience was moving and grooving with a purpose. “Die Young,” and “H.S.K.T.” initiated a massive dance revolution as heads banged, people clapped, and we all awkwardly danced and swayed. During “Coffee,” the repetition of the lyrics swelled as the song built momentum, leading to overwhelming sing along of the chorus. The band began their most well-known song “Hey Mami,” a-capella, causing the entire crowd to be on the edge of their seats with curiosity and anticipation. The performance ultimately lead to everyone in the venue singing the quip “sooner or later the dudes at bodegas will hold their lips and own their shit”, the signature lyric from the song. Sylvan Esso closed out the night with “Radio,” an anthem dedicated to all the haters and sell-outs in the music industry. Again, a major dance party commenced as lights flashed, music bounced off the walls and Sylvan Esso carried us all into euphoric happiness.
The real treat was when they came back onstage and performed a three song encore which included a beautiful rendition of “Slackjaw,” the first slow song of the night and ended up being one of my favorites of the night. Light synths and beats were utilized while their friend from the opening band, Collections of Colonies of Bees, played the guitar. The combination of sounds with Meath’s simple vocals allowed me to fully take in the beauty and complexity of the song and all the emotions it portrays as Meath sang “I got all the parts I wished for. I got everything I need. Sometimes I’m above water. But mostly I’m at sea.”
Nick Sanborn once said that “ideally a show is a collection of people who felt a certain way in the intimacy of their own home and they arrive at a venue packed with thousands of people and had this beautiful realization that all these other people know this feeling that was theirs and that is a beautiful thing to watch.” Sanborn’s quote feels especially pertinent for me, as I attended their concert solo; starting the night extremely self-conscious in regards to being a party of one. By the end of the night I was smiling, singing along to the words at the top of my lungs, and awkwardly dancing the night away with the friendly people sitting next to me. There was a communal spirit at this concert, and a solidarity in “feeling your feelings” as Amelia Meath said at the beginning of the night.
Sylvan Esso is an ingenuitive band that creates music and creates a mood that dissipates to everyone else. The vocals of Meath and the beats from Sanborn appear as an unlikely duo, but together, their creativity makes magic. It is easy to say that after that concert Sylvan Esso is here to stay, start a dance revolution, and maybe save the world.
BY SOPHIE MUELLER
Janelle Monae is a name you should know by now. It’s okay if you don’t because, unfortunately, not a lot of people do. Being a queer woman of color, Monae and her success story rarely get the spotlight. But one night at Summerfest, one of the most highly anticipated music festivals in the Midwest, Janelle Monae told her story through an hour and a half show filled with compassion, sadness, and living one’s truth.
Monae’s music goes beyond normality and reaches into the groundbreaking. Her songs focus on the very things that we avoid discussing because the areas where we are the most vulnerable: sexuality, love, race, and politics. It is an unspoken problem in the music industry that women of color rarely headline a major festival. This very problem is why Monae’s performance was so groundbreaking, as it highlighted all the broken parts of this crazy world and encouraged her audience to live their truth and live it boldly.
Performing the entirety of all the songs on her latest album, Dirty Computer, Monae had costume changes, back up dancers, and a percussive horns section as well as amazing graphics. For some artists these facets are added to a concert to distract from the lack of talent. For Monae, her band, dancers, and artistry took her performance to the next level. The crowd felt her energy, singing along at the top of their lungs to every song, as Monae turned the venue into an all out dance party for the ages. During her song “I Got the Juice” she brought up four lucky fans onstage to show off their dance moves during the main chorus. This genuine happiness and enthusiasm to spread the message that Dirty Computer conveys, made this performance the most anticipated of the festival season.
Janelle Monae’s voice held her audience in a trance for the entirety of the concert as she rapped and sang with a purpose, while showcasing her dance moves similar to that of her late mentor, Prince. Empowering songs, such as “Pynk”, caused the audience to go wild as Monae and her background dancers appeared in vagina shaped pants, that first debuted in her music video for the song, and making the video go viral. The guitar riff and lyrics in “Screwed” led to an insane sing-along and “Django Jane” entranced the entire venue as Monae rapped each lyric and rhyme with such a deep and intense purpose. My personal favorite song off of her album, “I Like That,” was also enjoyable to watch, as Monae and her backup dancers held a mini jam session on stage, dancing and singing along to the catchy backing vocals of the song. And who could forget the five minute show-stopping performance of “Tightrope” where Monae literally ended up on the ground because she was belting her heart out.
It is important to note that albums like Dirty Computer are few and far between and that artists like Janelle Monae are unparalleled. Monae creates music that allows you to willingly let down your guard and her songs compel you to listen without the need to respond but rather with the need to understand. Despite her music sounding typically upbeat, she still tells a story of confusion, loss, and hurt. With this juxtaposition Monae truly captures the complexity and chaos in life.
If you have not had the chance to hear her music or read her story, please do. Janelle Monae refuses to be ignored and commands attention in a way never been done before. She is truly one of the most influential artists of our time and has continuously pioneered for all artists of the modern age.