The Appeal of Esmé Patterson

Review of Pickle Boy, Brenda Xu, and Esmé Patterson at the Fremont Abbey Arts Center.

Written by Erin C, during TeenTix's arts criticism training workshop, the Fall 2018 Press Corps Intensive.

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As the flannel-clad audience slowly trickled into the Fremont Abbey Arts Center, it was immediately obvious what kind of show we were in for.

The concert-goers, mainly white couples over thirty who seem to have forgotten that most of us left being “hipster” in 2015, chatted under pretty string lights that zigzagged under the former church’s high ceilings. A lone pair of house speakers played indie rock, folk, and country music that gave further hints to the overall energy of the show to come.

Kicking off the three-act lineup was the first opener, Seattle-based group Pickle Boy. Their lead singer and guitarist Al was immediately recognizable as a performer with their bright red ensemble, though the rest of the band could have blended right in with the audience. Friday’s show was the first time they had ever performed together as a band, so they deserve some slack. In contrast with the more seasoned performances that followed, Pickle Boy lacked a strong stage presence. The musicians seemed solemn, almost bored; more focused on the technicalities of making the music happen than engaging the audience. However, they still delivered a remarkable performance. Al’s warbling voice delivered youthful, nostalgic lyrics that were unfortunately too often drowned out by the crashing drums. Their live performance was more rock-focused than the chill vibes of their recorded music, but they failed to transmit the necessary energy. Despite having enjoyable songs, a lack of coherence and vitality was Pickle Boy’s downfall.

Brenda Xu. Photo by Brighton Lacey Photography.

Next up was Brenda Xu, a solo folk singer also from Seattle. Abruptly jumping into her set with no announcement, she later remarked on how quickly the audience quieted down. With her regular gig playing in the SeaTac airport, Brenda is used to being background noise to busy travelers, but here under the spotlight, we were all captivated. Her lyrics often reference nature; she cited the forests of the Pacific Northwest as a strong inspiration. With nothing but her lovely voice and acoustic guitar on stage, Brenda proved that she is a more seasoned performer by establishing a strong presence even with such delicate music. While her recorded music features a full orchestra, the solo act emphasized the haunting quality of her style. Lengthy and beautiful instrumental breaks added an ambient element and distinguished Brenda from the other indie acts.

After being lulled into a calm but enjoyable stupor by Brenda Xu, Esmé Patterson exploded on the scene to wake the audience back up. She swished onto the stage in brightly striped pants, accompanied by her tea-drinking, sunglasses-wearing guitarist Jake in a very tight t-shirt, and their more nondescript rhythm section. They are clearly the most experienced performers, with a cultivated presence and upbeat, cohesive sound. Suddenly, it didn’t feel appropriate to be sitting down for such an energetic performance. Like Pickle Boy, Esmé’s live sound was much more rock than the recorded albums. She and her band successfully remind the audience why we go to live shows—the energy is unbeatable. The people standing at the back of the venue, behind the packed seats, were dancing to the beat. The entire audience would all be dancing with them, I’m sure, if we weren’t seated.

Esmé Patterson. Photo by Rachel Winslow.

Towards the end of her set, Esmé explained the idea behind her concept album, Woman to Woman. Each song is a response to a famous song about a female character, from the woman’s perspective rather than the man’s. She performed her responses to “Eleanor Rigby” by the Beatles, and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”. Each song incorporates stylistic elements from the original into Esmé’s distinct genre. “Rage is a useful tool,” she said of our current political climate, “if you can pick it up and put it back down.” She recounted a recent cathartic experience with a screaming kid on an airplane, where she felt like some part of her was able to scream on the inside.

Perhaps that is the appeal of Esmé Patterson’s show: as she bounces around and screams the lyrics, we get to scream too.

This review was written as part of the Fall 2018 Press Corps Intensive. It was edited by teaching artist and music critic Ma'Chell Duma.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about other Press Corps programs including the Teen Editorial Staff or the TeenTix Newsroom, see HERE.

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