Esme Patterson played introspective songs with an extroverted attitude during her concert in Dallas on July 13. Taking the stage at Three Links, a semi-punk bar whose usual clientele wear lug nuts as earrings and make regular contributions to their 401(k)s, Patterson drew the majority of her 10-song set from her latest album We Were Wild.
The venue’s craft beer and mosh pit aesthetic also proved a good fit for the opening band, The Winstons, a drums and guitar garage rock duo, who sound like Bob Dylan going through a manic episode. While they stomped and howled, Patterson hung near the back of the room talking with her two bandmates and fans who approached her, smiling and thanking them for coming out.
Most of the audience filling Three Links to about half capacity were college age women, either clustered in groups or holding hands with guys who looked like they had serious opinions about beard oil. Patterson’s Texas flag jacket and marijuana leaf-patterned undershirt fit right in, as did her two bandmates’ long haul trucker outfits.
A subdued excitement settled over the crowd once the concert began and remained throughout the show, with few talking amongst themselves and most fixing their eyes on the stage. Once the show got underway with three tracks from We Were Wild: “Wantin Ain’t getting,” “Come See Me,” and “No River,” they began to sway back and forth and nodding thoughtfully to the folk tempo and sound. Considering the heavy themes in the lyrics, that seemed appropriate. The meditative verses of “No River,” for example, examine the need for accepting personal flaws and mortality. Singing, “I know that I’m alive today, but I’m human,” inspires introspection rather than dancing.
The meditative verses of “No River,” for example, examine the need for accepting personal flaws and mortality.
This public soul searching went over well with the audience, who clapped rather than yelled their appreciation after every tune. Patterson thanked the concert goers each time with an I’m-just-happy-to-be-here grin, the type seen on a 12-stepping addict’s face when describing how grateful they feel for lessons learned by going through hell.
That’s not implying any sort of junkie business on Patterson’s part, just that she possesses a sense of hard-won gratitude after going through a lot over the past years. In 2014 her old band Paper Bird gave her an ultimatum: Quit your solo career, or quit us. Even though her sister is still a member of Paper Bird, Patterson still left the group, saying in an interview, “Even though it’s for the best, it still hurts.”
The songs picked up a little more fire around the concert’s halfway mark. The guitar work got meaner, picking up speed and a bluesy rumbling tone. When playing “Tumbleweed,” a reimagining of Townes Van Zandt’s “Loretta” from the titular woman’s perspective, Patterson sang like she had burning coals for vocal cords. The show-closing “Feel Alright” saw her jumping up and down while belting out how she’s doing fine.
But by and large, Patterson’s concerts don’t come with an overload of sturm und drang. Instead, they reach for the musical equivalent of a heart-to-heart chat about life.