After playing the first song of his set at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia on Friday night, Allen Tate took a moment to address the small crowd gathered before him.

“I think I know everyone here,” he joked, triggering a chorus of light laughter through the room.

Most days, Tate – a Philadelphia area native – is the lead singer of Brooklyn-based indie rockers San Fermin. That job has helped him become comfortable singing before festival-sized crowds. This time, however, Tate alone was the main attraction as he played songs off his new solo record to an assembly made up mostly of family and friends.

Tate’s debut – Sleepwalker – was released in October. Since then he has only tested out his songs in a live setting a handful of times. It was appropriate then that he let these tunes grow and explore before a familiar audience.

“I wrote this record myself,” Tate told the crowd with a slight sense of bewilderment in his voice, almost as if the finality of that process was still settling in for him. “It’s the first time I’ve ever done that.”

During a break in San Fermin’s tour, Tate escaped to Copenhagen for three weeks by himself to eliminate distractions and spark his songwriting creativity. Tate’s solitary experience is reflected in the new record as Sleepwalker is often much quieter and admittedly lonlier than San Fermin’s booming sound with many moving pieces.

He told a quick story about writing “Being Alone,” – the second track on Sleepwalker – how the effect of isolating himself in a foreign place began to manifest itself in the form of dark thoughts.  “Maybe it’s being alone that gets you down,” Tate contemplates in the chorus.

Tate has made appearances playing by himself with just a guitar to compliment his rich baritone. He was accompanied on Friday by a second guitarist, a drummer and a female keyboardist who supplied backup vocals as well.

The band’s cohesive, tight sound filled World Cafe’s intimate Upstairs space. Tate’s on-stage support perhaps had the greatest impact during “Don’t Choke.”

On his website, Tate explains how he put a certain degree of pressure on himself in trying to best portray the mixed feelings of optimism and doubt he harbored while writing the record. He called writing the hook for “Don’t Choke” – You’re gonna be great…don’t choke! – as “almost cathartic.”

You could nearly see Tate physically grow more comfortable as the music became louder and more emotive leading to its chorus. When his backup vocalist delivered that therapeutic line, his confidence became palpable.

Friday night’s audience saw a promising young songwriter with a strong ability to tap into the deeper, darker depths of the human experience. While Tate may feel he still has room to grow as a solo artist, he certainly has no reason to choke.

-Mike Still

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