Waxahatchee at Off Broadway
When Waxahatchee singer/songwriter Katie Crutchfield took the stage Saturday night accompanied only by guitarist Keith Spencer, one might have seen it as a sign that the evening would take a quieter tone. Their opening number “Swan Dive” was stripped of the rolling drum beat that accented the recorded version, allowing listeners to focus on Crutchfield’s somber vocals. In the drums' place, Spencer provided short bursts of distorted guitar fills — the real indication of where the night was headed.
Following the opener, bassist Katherine Simonetti, drummer Ashley Arnwine and guitarist Allison Crutchfield (Katie’s sister) joined the duo onstage to put on what could only be described as an all-out rock show. While Waxahatachee’s sound has certainly expanded since the mostly acoustic home demos featured on debut album American Weekend
, nothing in its catalog gave any indication of the power and energy the band projected at Off Broadway.
Much of the credit for the band's driving live sound could be credited to Arnwine, whose presence behind the drum kit brought to mind Dave Grohl’s work with Nirvana — loud, straight-ahead beats with little room for fills. That her hair swung in front of her face as she pounded away for the majority of the show also helped with the comparison.
Though the drum parts on the band’s last two albums were played by Spencer, the band asked Arnwine — whose band Pink Wash had toured with Waxahatchee previously — to join as a touring member.
“I was trying to do justice to what was played on the record,” she said after the show. “I would ask Keith how he played them, and sometimes his style and my style, they mostly matched up. But in the moments they didn’t I would try something else. I do have a tendency to hit pretty hard.”
Allison Crutchfield’s addition also yielded a new dynamic in Waxahatchee’s sound — especially in the moments where she added background vocals to her sister’s leads. The old adage that family members harmonize in ways unique to those connected by blood was certainly on display, as was a bit of nostalgia for those who remember the Crutchfield sisters' two-album run in the band P.S. Eliot.
For all the increased sonics, however, the central focus of the night was still the voice and songwriting of Katie Crutchfield. As the band played over fifteen selections from its three records, her confessional, smart, occasionally angry lyrics served as a North Star guiding the increased volume behind them.
Occasionally coming off as shy or reserved on some of her albums' quieter moments, Crutchfield also proved herself a very adept frontwoman. On “Grey Hair,” the only song she sang without playing guitar, she remained the show’s focal point while singing into a stationary microphone as the four other musicians moved around her. There was very little wasted time between songs, the only exceptions being the quick dedication of a Lucinda Williams cover and a brief discussion with audience members about the City Museum. (Earlier in the day, Katie had asked on Twitter if anyone knew someone who worked at the downtown playground. In response to an audience members question about the tweet, she said she was unable to visit, though Allison said she had been there before.)
Closing the show with the title track from debut album American Weekend
, the band managed to sum up the night in one song. With Arnwine’s hair flying in her face and a three-guitar attack from both Crutchfields and Spencer, the band managed to take the quiet acoustic number and turn it into a swell of volume and power, all while maintaining the emotion of the original. Whether this bigger sound is part of the continuing evolution of Waxahatchee or just how its members feel like playing the songs at this moment is unknown. That it provides for an exceptional rock show, however, should be unquestioned.