Waxahatchee, the solo project of Philadelphia-based musician Katie Crutchfield, isn’t keen on employing the word “confessional” to describe her music.
“I don’t really like the idea of really personal, honest songwriting being portrayed as confessional,” Crutchfield said. “Anytime I read that, it sounds like a cheap word to use … like I’m gonna confess to something insane.”
This universality grounds Crutchfield’s thoughtful works into firmly accessible territory and into words that the crowd at the Chapel on March 8 could — and often did — sing along to with conviction.
Waxahatchee’s songs are marked with a gentle, plaintive melancholy. On crowd favorites such as “Dixie Cups and Jars” and “Bathtub” — the former of which she admitted to be a personal favorite — she binds a deluge of intimate, elegantly tangled vignettes together with a single, perfect thought.
Crutchfield is currently touring in support of Waxahatchee’s immersive third album, 2015’s Ivy Tripp. Her stop in San Francisco resembled a living room party, with Crutchfield stepping onto the elevated main stage with a guitar and a glass of red wine. This intimate scene should come as no surprise; after all, she hails from the racket of Philadelphia’s lo-fi scene, wherein living room gigs are aplenty and audiences and close friends are one in the same.
The fact that Waxahatchee’s live set was purely acoustic may have come as a shock to some, though. Crutchfield’s latest offerings — Tripp and 2013’s Cerulean Salt — are rich with varied sonic textures.
During the interview, she addressed rumors that her upcoming record — which she started working on prior to kicking off the tour — would hearken back to the spare, autobiographical storytelling of her beloved lo-fi debut American Weekend. To Crutchfield, it’s not a choice rooted in nostalgia or a move to counter her rise in popularity. Instead, it’s the sound of an artist growing in prominence and willing to hedge all bets with her song-crafting abilities.
“More so than it being solo, I want it to be a little more autonomous,” she explained.
Waxahatchee’s all-acoustic live set mirrored this sentiment. As with most artists who eschew a full-band offering in favor of just performing on guitar, the joy of familiarity is replaced with the thrill of eking out new meaning from an acoustic revision. Her livelier, more popular offerings — namely “Swan Dive” and “La Loose” — were placed in a far more austere light during the set.
Crutchfield’s choice of covers during the set, including a cover of country singer Lucinda Williams’ pained “Greenville,” were tucked in neatly — a mournful entry of a broken romance that she could have penned herself. Certainly, the melancholy of the country legend permeates within her music.
But the band that influenced Waxahatchee most directly — and the one that was put most on display by keen observers — was Los Angeles indie-rock outfit Rilo Kiley. Crutchfield even has a tattoo on her right arm of its 2002 album The Execution of All Things.
“I never related to something more,” Crutchfield said. “I wanted to write stuff like that. … It was in the forefront of my mind when I first started writing music that I think it has just carried over to everything.”
And much of Rilo Kiley’s appeal, she explained, comes from lead singer Jenny Lewis’ honest lyricism. “That’s always my goal: To write something that means a lot to me and I could listen to over and over,” she said.
Her final pre-encore song, “I Think I Love You,” falls squarely under this territory. “I am learning to be alone,” she sighs midway through.
“I Think I Love You,” a highlight off American Weekend, is painfully blunt in the same way that many Rilo Kiley songs are. And it wouldn’t be hard to imagine that the song would be in the forefront of an aspiring songwriter, much like Rilo Kiley was to Crutchfield.