Sometime recently, I stumbled on a copy of Esmé Patterson’s Woman to Woman EP. All the songs off that EP are responses to famous songs about women, turning the originals on their head as Patterson writes and sings in the unrepresented woman’s voice. At the time I didn’t realize that she was once in Paper Bird and had worked with Shakey Graves, two musical projects that I greatly enjoyed. I was just awestruck by Patterson’s amazing voice and songs that felt necessary and unique even with their obvious inspiration. This week, I was lucky enough to see Patterson end her tour with Cold Country at Evanston SPACE, where the two delivered amazing intimate performances.
Through Cold Country, Sean McConnell releases some incredibly beautiful music and set the initial atmosphere for the evening perfectly He sat alone at the center of the stage and played his very gentle and personal songs with an unwavering skill. “To Providence” dreams of better days with such sullen hope and McConnell delivers the song with every bit of that sensation live. Between songs McConnell spoke of his music with a special tone, especially “Letters to My Daughters,” which is filled with an immeasurable amount of love.
Half way through his set, McConnell revealed that he was supposed to be joined by another guitarist. A missed flight prevented this and left McConnell having to rely on loops to achieve the effects he wanted. He explained the looping as if it was an experiment, but within moments after the first circle of music rang, McConnell’s missing guitarist resulted in a magnificent harmony with himself. He lamented afterwards, saying that it’s hard to be two people, but he accomplished this feat quite well.
Esmé Patterson and her band reached the stage soon after Cold Country, immediately getting the crowd immersed in her unique voice. Patterson’s songs straddle the line between bigger sounds and softer tones and her stage presence reflects that. She was an immense ball of energy throughout the night, balancing that essence between her voice and movements. The start, which included “We Were Wild” from her upcoming album, saw Patterson moving around stage lightning fast and digging into the mostly upbeat set.
Towards the middle of performance, Patterson played three songs pulled from her Woman to Woman EP. “Bluebird”, a response to “Eleanor Rigby”, was simultaneously tender and determined in the face of death while “Never Chase a Man” resolutely paints the man in “Jolene” as a monumental waste of time, turning the pleading of the original into misplaced emotions. Patterson ened the trio of songs with “The Glow”, a dour response to The Beach Boys’ “Caroline, No”. Her voice was reverent and passionate, building these songs up so elegantly. These songs’ strength didn’t come from the origins that inspired them, but rather from Patterson’s immaculate presentation.
Towards the end of the night, Patterson and her band tore into “Feel Alright” a single off her upcoming album We Were Wild. The song’s tone and performance were a sudden departure from the rest of the night. Instead of the balance that had filled up the majority of her time, Patterson and her band exploded, evolving into this intense and raucous group. It was a glorious moment of raw musical force and sincerely took me by surprise. Patterson’ voice roars above the loud instrumentation and invigorated the audience.
While “Feel Alright” was undeniably the rocking peak in her set, her final song stood tallest. Her band exited the stage and left Esmé Patterson alone on stage. “The Diamond Song” was performed with only her guitar accompanying her soft and emotional voice. The whole night seemed to be leading up to this moment where the spotlight was solely Patterson, allowing her natural talent to shine without any assistance. The song slowly coursed through the crowd as a gentle farewell to the intimate and rewarding evening.
All photos by Julian Ramirez