Katie Crutchfield in Waxahatchee doesn’t seem the stuff of Alabama. She may have started that way — wispy and lo-fi, hollow acoustics, grainy bedroom vocals, a little twangy, a little whiny — but the sounds of American Weekend in 2012 gave way to snare drums and faster tempos of Ivy Tripp in 2015. Crutchfield’s predisposition for poetic lyricism is omnipresent in her discography, but the sounds pinned to it have ebbed toward a genre more reminiscent of lightly synthesized soft rock than the sparse strumming and piano melodies of her freshman album.
And with sonic evolution, performative evolution often follows suit.
There’s a performance from when Crutchfield was younger — in between American Weekend and Ivy Tripp — that she did for NPR, around the time she released Cerulean Salt in 2013. The red lights flare; she sports a kitchen scissor style pixie cut and wields a black and white electric guitar.
But on Friday night, The Fillmore was awash with jewel-toned spotlights, as Crutchfield stood onstage. Backed by indigo lighting, she appeared a little angelic in her white smock, clutching at her maple-colored electric guitar — sometimes swapped for an auburn acoustic, sometimes abandoned altogether to leave her hands swishing through the color-saturated air.
There was the feeling that Crutchfield had grown up — she cut her hair differently, she held her guitar differently, she played her music differently — but much like Crutchfield’s newest album, Out in the Storm — which carefully adheres to her trend of lyrical focus, rife with ever-present emotional spilling, distinguished by a denser, darker drumline — Crutchfield’s latest live show maintained the strong emotion that has been present in her performances from the beginning.
Crutchfield’s compelling presence was most at play when she was singing. Addressing the floor packed with young adults, her voice was smaller, more mild, more echoey, much the same as her sentiments — she was happy to be there, this was a new song, this was an old song. While singing, her vocal quality was stronger, whether lilting in a show of slow melancholia or projecting strained and defiant through the Hermione mop of hair falling in front of her face as she danced. She seemed aware of the discrepancy, keeping her scattered dialogue brief and nervous throughout her set.
As a band, Waxahatchee crisscrossed through its albums, transforming the setlist into a collage of ages and moods, highlighting the artistic changes Crutchfield has encountered since the conception of her band, all while blanketing them with the polish of increased maturity.
“Peace and Quiet,” from Waxahatchee’s sophomore album Cerulean Salt, followed “Sparks Fly” off of Out in the Storm. Where Out in the Storm is a turbulent breakup album, Cerulean Salt is not, instead a compilation filled with youthful moments and small wisdoms.
Specifically, “Sparks Fly” broadcasts a brand of self-assured humility — the final part of the breakup when you can be happy by yourself again — “In the last moments of sunlight / I know you don’t recognize me / But I’m a live wire, finally.” But then, played directly after, “Peace and Quiet” is steeped in sadness and the exhaustion of conflict — “You’re trying / To defend all the damage you caused / If I muster the strength to afflict you / I won’t feel any better at all.”
Songs from Waxahatchee run generally shorter than many contemporary comparable tunes — most of the songs on Out in the Storm are between two and a half and three minutes long — contributing to the expansive collage-feel of the show. The audience, swaying, swaddled in shapeless acoustics and gentle harmonies one moment, would bop up and down the next to a driving bassline beat, never with ubiquity.
Crutchfield has the capacity to compel audiences with frank emotional outpouring. It’s uncommon for artists to rely so heavily on the way they feel to garner the approval of audiences, but Waxahatchee does exactly that.
Olivia Jerram covers music. Contact her at [email protected].