TVD Live: Waxahatchee at Beachland Ballroom, 7/20

PHOTOS: JUDIE VEGH | Katie Crutchfield loomed tall on center stage, wearing black leather shoes with thick soles. Her twin sister, Alison Crutchfield, seemed smaller in her ballet slippers and short, pixie haircut. They had been in bands together since high school until their last project, P.S. Eliot, disbanded and they each started their own separate projects. Katie Crutchfield started Waxahatchee, who I saw play at the Beachland Ballroom Monday night. This was her band, so she was taller. She was center stage. By the end of the show, she was the only one on stage.

It was only fitting the show ended the way Waxahatchee itself began—just one woman with a guitar, singing darkly into a microphone. But that wasn’t how most of the night went. The Waxahatchee of 2015 is a different beast from the band’s stark, sometimes brutal solo beginnings.

The band had an airiness about them, reminiscent of the Crutchfield sisters’ P.S. Eliot pop-punk days. Even as the instruments drown in the shallow waters of distortion, Katie Crutchfield’s vocals felt measured and comforting. It’s the resolute calm in her voice that made her solo offerings at the end of the night so haunting and the full-band romps the rest of the night breezy and joyous.

And as tall as Katie stood as the undisputed frontwoman of this band, it was Alison who took the full-band vocals to another level. Their singing voices are so similar and chemistry so familiar, every vocal harmony Alison added to each song was subtle magic. The harmonies were so perfect, it was easy to miss that they were happening at all until Alison’s voice dropped out. It only felt natural to hear the two of them combine voices for those brief moments like one entity doubling itself.

Drummer Ashley Arnwine also played in the opening band, Pinkwash. They were a completely different animal than the headliner, playing aggressive post-punk with looping metal riffs. Arnwine’s drumming was amazing during the opener, but I brushed it off, telling photographer Judie Vegh that I didn’t think drumming could elevate a band like Waxahatchee.

I was wrong.

From a purely technical standpoint, Arnwine is the single most talented member of this band. Most of the time, she reigned in the kind of power fills she displayed in Pinkwash, but there’s still a primal power behind her restrained drumming that pushes the band forward. It makes it all the better when she’s allowed to explode into the kind of crazy fills she’s capable of playing. If Waxahatchee is going to be more punk than solo acoustic now, they absolutely need a drummer of this level and ability.

This strategy of holding back a little only to explode into bombastic rock temper tantrums applies to the guitar work as well. For most of the night, there were three guitarists—lead guitarist Keith Spencer and the Crutchfield sisters. While Spencer only got to have a few moments to noodle and show off, the more is more approach to guitars was really cool. Simple pop-punk chord changes turned into blaring sonic bursts—most notably at the end of “<” (or “Less Than”), which started off as a slow jam before unexpectedly exploding.

During the middle of the show, Katie announced, “We’re going to play a couple quiet songs now,” and she stayed true to her word. The songs were as stark as full-band Waxahatchee gets, rolling basslines fueling many of these songs. It should have been an opportunity for bassist Katherine Simonetti to shine alongside Katie’s aching vocals, but a few dudes standing to the side of the stage spent the entire quiet portion of the set talking very loudly. It carried across the entire room, garnering more than a few angry glances in their direction. They left to go into the bar portion of Beachland Ballroom with a few seconds left in the last song of the quiet songs.

It’s not the band’s fault a few inconsiderate, middle-aged men ruined this part of the set, but it happened. I get the feeling this was supposed to be the centerpiece—a few songs designed to connect with the audience and create a memorable impression for years to come. Those guys stole that from the crowd, and that sucks.

The band finished off the rest of their set with more bangers, leaving the stage to chants of “encore!” and “one more song!” Katie came back on stage with just Spencer and played several songs off her first album. The vulnerability and brokenness she conveyed in these encore performances reminded me of what made me fall in love with Waxahatchee in the first place.

For the final song, Spencer left. It was only the audience and Katie Crutchfield. She sang a ghostly version of “I Think I Love You,” singing half the song with her eyes closed as if she couldn’t bear to look at us while she cut her heart out on stage. The rest of the show with her entire band was fun, but this was the soul aching, almost-scarring moment I would remember.

The rest was fun, but this was perfection.

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