I had the pleasure of seeing Esmé Patterson perform last year at Evanston SPACE, a few months before the release of her latest album We Were Wild. It was a great experience and at the time Patterson’s aesthetic was still focused on her folk music roots. However there were flashes of rock influences in her new songs that made them sound more vibrant and energetic. It was a great display of Patterson’s fluidity as a musician. Nearly a year later at Schubas these flashes have overtaken her live sound and it’s a welcome transition. Esmé Patterson, along with openers Pool Holograph, proceed to embody their rocking style and put on one of the more confident and badass performances in recent memory.
Pool Holograph took the opening spot that night and fittingly set the tone for the night. Their sound is much more indebted to experimental elements of post rock than Patterson’s, but they were an ideal way to strike the evening’s mood. Their songs churned along with a restlessness that was amped up by lead singer and guitarist Wyatt Grant’s onstage presence. Whether he was shimmying onstage and slamming himself into the ground for an impassioned vocal performance, Wyatt seemed to always be having a good time entertaining this decently sized crowd.
The band made their time onstage feel like a house party, something which the crowd full of fans and friends helped bring to fruition. “Lone Star,” which came off as the band’s crowning achievment, had Grant twisting and turning to the song’s magical imagery over the band’s dreamy and intense instrumentals. Imagine a lost Galaxie 500 song dipped with punk flourishes and you got the feel of this song. Eventually one of their songs turned into a happy birthday anthem to a friend of the band, Stevie, emphasizing the DIY quality that Pool Holographic excels at.
When it came time for Esmé Patterson’s set, the Schubas crowd had grown and was clamoring for her set. As she stepped out and got her equipment ready, gone were her curly locks, replaced by a blue wig not unlike the one she wore in her latest music video. I had a feeling that this was going to be a very different show than the one I had seen the previous year. Moments into “Find It,” that sentiment of change and difference became concrete. The song that last year felt like suggestion was now a demand. “I let my fear bury me” was sung with an anger reserved for regrets and “don’t wait too long, go out and find it” with a much needed urgency.
That extra sense of fury and passion permeated the night. Her songs tend to have a very intimate and confessional nature, but now more than ever there was an intensity behind them that shone through. She repeatedly expressed her emotions about songs explicitly throughout the night. These moments didn’t just underline her music’s message, they doused them with her desire for something better. “Never Chase A Man,” a song response to “Jolene” off her concept E.P. Woman to Woman, was dedicated to all the single ladies in the room. “No River” was prefaced with the prejudice and dehumanization she has experienced identifying as bisexual, elevating the repeating chorus of “I’m human” to drastically important heights of empowerment.
On the song “Tumbleweed,” another response song (this one to Townes Van Zandt’s “Loretta”) off of Woman to Woman, Patterson recalled not being able to always take the high ground having been both the cowboy and the waitress in her past. This complexity and honesty served her set magnificently. While there was rage she was more than happy to use her artistry as catharsis, smiling her way through her intense performances. The most endearing example of this came with a new song birthed from a breakup, where Patterson delved into doing “the single thing” and confessing to being miserable about sleeping around and not really being able to do it. This was her at her most raw during the night and the crowd took in her voice and band with open ears.
As the show came closer and closer to its final moments, the crowded room at Schubas became all the more invested. It became evident that all her passion had been building up to this moment of the night. “Francine,” the aforementined latest music video, started up and reached an extraordinary acme of the night. Patterson and the band were at their most intense and vicious, turning the already confident song into a roaring anthem that result in a loud harmonious crash of noise. Patterson shook her head and thrashed her faux strands of hair around as her fingertips strummed voraciously, expelling this wall of sound. This wonderful folk singer had completed her transformation into a rock star. As the erupting noise hit its face-melting heights, she tore the wig off her head and slammed it to the ground, revealing her short trimmed hair. Patterson’s smile was at its most refreshing and free. The room rejoiced along with Patterson as she transitioned “Francine” into “Feel Right”, shaking Schubas to its core. The song’s mantra of “no one wants to feel something that don’t feel right” rang truest with this night of explosive display of empowerment and of confidence, leaving Schubas with a fantastic experience.