On the evening of March 24, a cold and rainy Sunday, folk singer-songwriter Emily Pate was warmly received in UNC’s historic Person Hall.
Pate’s performance Sunday night marked the release of her debut album, What We Dream. Performing with her were Bryant Lovette (guitar, backing vocals), Autumn Brand (violin) of Saints Apollo, Gabriel Reynolds (piano) of Morning Brigade and Ron Brashear (drums). Pate, a multi-instrumentalist, switched between guitar and flute throughout the show.
Warmth exuded from Person Hall. The dimmed lights set the evening in a mellow tone as the performers were illuminated mostly from below by a string of lights laid across the floor. Person Recital Hall has no stage, so performers in the hall are at ground level, which creates an illusory feeling of closeness between audience and performer. A dreamily gentle atmosphere was created by the choice of venue and lighting. We sat in the dark as the soundscape emerged across the dividing light.
The night began with Pate’s song “Shot in the Dark.” Its sarcastic lyrics (“So tell him the truth/ his mind is no use/ ‘cause he’s dead now”) were contrasted with Pate’s somewhat laidback style of singing. Seeing Pate perform live was refreshing. Her album is full of juxtapositions between music and lyrics, and seeing her perform live one of her most complex songs in that regard was wonderful. Not simply because it’s a fun song, but also because she was able to really emphasize some of her lighter comments. This recurred throughout the night.
“What we dream the most of/ is what we speak most oft,” are lyrics from What We Dream’s title track. Speaking to the crowd prior to performing it, Pate related these lyrics to her naming the album and what her music means. What we dream is who we are as people, and Pate’s music seeks to explore the dream world.
While most of Pate’s songs search for meaning in broader terms, there is also a deeper historical narrative to several of her songs which all carry the same themes of hope, betrayal and dreams. Those three songs were “Gretchen,” which was inspired by Goethe’s “Faust;” “Emmett Till,” which memorializes the late Till; and “Ghost Dance,” which refers to a Native American religious movement that began in the in the last decade of the 19th century.
Pate’s performances of these songs were all the more telling of her philosophy surrounding music. She is a keen storyteller who becomes the figure whose story she is trying to convey. The songs are essentially sympathetic. But in her search for meaning and what defines her, her live performance sought for ways in which she could empathize. Pate’s songs live and breathe. Recordings may do justice to the music, but the passion of live performance is necessary to better grasp the meaning.
Emily Pate was supported by a superb group of musicians. Brashear, who also recorded and produced What We Dream, held down the beat with his drumming. His conservative style complemented the group and yet, he very clearly led from the back on the songs on which he was featured. Brand has a full, round violin tone, and the realization of her solos was carefully tender – her playing on “Birds of a Feather” was particularly pleasing. On the three songs he performed with Pate, Reynolds was a perfect match. His playing was best during rich and heavily textured parts, such as during his solos in the song “Slow.” As for Lovette, it was obvious that he and Pate share a wonderful musical chemistry and every moment that the two were featured alone was special.
A night of dreaming is sometimes what we need after long periods of stress. For those who enjoy fleeting moments of soul-searching, Emily Pate’s album release concert in Person Hall was a pleasure. A night of music with Emily Pate is a night to remember.
Interested in learning more? Read our review of Emily Pate’s recently released What We Dream.
Photo 1 and 3 courtesy of John Reardon
Photo 2 courtesy of Meera Chakravarthy