The afternoon sunshine seemed promising, but the rain returned just as gates opened. Still, floods of people made their way happily to Surly Brewing Festival Field for yesterday’s sold-out Sylvan Esso show. Milwaukee band Collections of Colonies of Bees were the openers, and the last sprinkles finished just as their set did.
Sylvan Esso’s set began about 15 minutes behind schedule, but the extra anticipation only made the crowd more excited once Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn took the stage. The electro-pop duo started off by softly sliding into “Sound,” the first track on their most recent album, What Now (2017), and gliding near seamlessly into “Dreamy Bruises” from their self-titled 2014 debut.
“Minneapolis, land of my birth! Hello!” shouted Sanborn. They gave a shout-out to Colonies of Bees before really getting everyone dancing with “Signal.” That was followed by a couple more favorites from What Now, with those infectious dance beats that always please the band’s live audiences.
Sanborn explained before playing “Jaime’s Song” that they hadn’t played it in a very long time, but somebody asked them before the tour started if they’d play it at this show, and it’s been on their setlist ever since. The two of them got the audience to sing happy birthday to Bob, one of their sound guys, and Meath instructed everyone in howling at the moon right before “Wolf,” prefacing it with a little sing-songy intro that went. “Oh it’s that time, it’s my favorite time again/ Do you want to howl with me/ The sound of many many wolves howling at that moon.”
The lights warmed up to an orange glow during “Uncantena,” but the strobes came back during “HSKT,” which also brought a wave of Macarena-like dancing through the audience. Right before he band began “Hey Mami,” Sanborn mentioned that his parents were there. To the audience’s excitement, Meath put a little extra oomph into her vocals on that number, in a departure from the studio recording.
Sylvan Esso came back out for a three-song encore which began with “Slack Jaw,” performed with Chris Rosenau of Colonies of Bees. Meath introduced “Rewind” as a song that’s “about learning how to be a human being by watching television,” and the whole audience joined her in waving their hands back and forth to the beat at the end of the song.
Sanborn reminded the audience that there was a voter registration booth at the back of the field, and asked us to do everything we could to protect the Boundary Waters from being mined. “It’s a place near and dear to my heart,” he said.
Closing the night was “Play it Right,” the first song the duo ever wrote together. I’m convinced, as a concertgoer who’s also a Surly employee, that it inspired the most dancing that the Festival Field has ever seen.
Collections of Colonies of Bees