Review: Waxahatchee with Katy Kirby at The Sylvee 9/10/21

It was a big weekend for music in the Midwest; some of the most exciting acts from Thundercat to Phoebe Bridgers graced the stages in Chicago’s Union Park for Pitchfork music festival. Although I wasn’t able to go to Pitchfork myself (although some of our other staff did, and you can read about their experience here), I was able to catch one of the acts this past Friday at the Sylvee: Birmingham-based indie songstress Waxahatchee.

Waxahatchee, née Katie Crutchfield, has very much established herself as a part of the indie-rock canon. Her most recent album Saint Cloud, released last spring, marks her fifth full-length LP, which is no small achievement by any metric, let alone within the current indie-rock milieu. Her early sound, which is quite lo-fi and sparsely instrumented, has influenced many other artists after her such as Soccer Mommy and Julien Baker. However, Saint Cloud stands out in her oeuvre as a breath of fresh air, which is apparent just from the album art, which pictures her lounging on the roof of a vintage pickup, head upturned toward the sky. The sound of the album gestures toward her upbringing in Birmingham, AL, with hints of Americana, country and even hard rock woven into the more indie-centric aesthetics. 

Opening for Waxahatchee was the Nashville-based Katy Kirby (who we interviewed this past winter: you can listen here), whose bright, sun-bleached sound meshed very well with that of Waxahatchee’s. I found the highlight of Kirby’s set to be her last song “Cool Dry Place” after an awkward, yet endearing explanation of how the song is actually a rehashed Alex G cover (which if I might add caters to the UW-indie-kid demographic all too well). It’s a slow burner, and the feedback-heavy, shoe-gaze textures as well as a long guitar solo in the latter half make the most of its five minute run time. I noticed that even some of the older crowd hanging by the bar couldn’t resist bobbing their heads along to that one.

Before Waxahatchee even steps out onstage, I notice after the set break how closely the stage décor mimics the Saint Cloud album art. Blood-red roses are twined around the mic stands, and the spotlights cast the band in a sky blue. The band members themselves too are dressed to the nines, the two guitarists and the drummer are all wearing button downs fit for Sunday service, and the bass player wears the cutest 70s inspired blue dress with flower appliqués. Finally, Waxahatchee walks out in a flowy, white linen dress and strums the opening chord.

Some of my favorite songs during the concert were her older songs, particularly “Sparks Fly”, off of 2017’s Out in the Storm, and “Rose, 1956” off of her 2012 debut American Weekend. I found that the instrumentation and sound of her band, although it doesn’t neatly match the studio versions of these songs, meshed surprisingly with the songs. For example, the studio recording of “Rose, 1956” is populated by nothing more than Crutchfield’s vocals and the strains of her acoustic guitar, all filtered through what sounds like a 8 track tape recorder. However, the song blooms with the addition of drums, electric guitar and bass, while still keeping its bittersweet, nostalgic sheen. That’s one of the virtues of live music that’s easy to take for granted: the ability for the band to rearrange their songs or even cover other songs in a way that is totally unique.

There’s no wrong way to go to a concert, per se, but I find I have the most fun if I can bust a move (or bust some heads if it’s more of a mosh-pit situation). However I found myself doing neither of these during Waxahatchee’s set, and neither was the rest of the crowd, save for a few couples who were clearly having the time of their life (or a little too drunk for 9pm). This could have been owed to the band’s stage presence, which consisted of little more than gently swaying along to the beat. On top of that, the stagnance of the band and the crowd caused a lot of the sing-along-able choruses to fall flat, making me wonder when they would end as opposed to making me want to croon along. On one hand, I wish that the band could’ve infused the crowd with a bit more energy. On the other hand, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a more laid-back, contemplative performance atmosphere. After all, you wouldn’t mosh at an orchestra concert, would you?