Review: Sound Struggles and an Awkward Disconnect Sees Waxahatchee Fall Short at The Fleece

2-stars11th June 2015


maxresdefaultWith third album Ivy Tripp still glowing from the universal praise received from all the major players of the musical press upon its release two months ago, it is with some anticipation that the slowly expanding Fleece audience await singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield and the four bandmates who comprise Alabama band Waxahatchee. Combing a throwback redolence to the likes of 90s grungers Kim Deal and Courtney Love with a low fidelity, alt-folk kookiness, Crutchfield’s likeable three to four minute odes of introspective lyricism have seen her emerge as a simultaneously sardonic and sincere guitar girl for the modern age.

However, tonight’s show is blighted by sound problems, songs breaking down and a lack of interaction that reduce the performance into the ranks of perfunctory indifference. The show begins promisingly enough with ‘Under a Rock’, the lyrical frustrations of relationship angst frothing nicely under the half-clean, half-distorted fizz of the band’s three pronged guitar attack. “This is our first time in Bristol ever” states Crutchfield after the sub-two minute crunch of ‘Misery Over Dispute’; however, an unacknowledged boycotting of the set’s following track heralds in the beginning of sound problems that blemish the next few songs.

Though sounding very much like The Vaselines’ ‘Son of a Gun’, ‘The Dirt’ is a satisfying three chord drive of punk-lite breeziness but a disjointed drone of buzzing guitar feedback induce glances of unease between Crutchfield and twin sister Allison on guitar. More looks of concern are shared as the band plough through ‘Lively’ and ‘Poison’ and it is not until ‘Brother Bryan’ that Cructhfield sees fit to break her diffidence and address the problem with sound man and audience.

The doomy riff and sparse drum and bass stomp of ‘<’ reveal a rectifying of the technical issues before the lovely, four chord catchiness of ‘Lips and Limbs’ is an encouraging mid-set sign of a band now fully recovered from earlier problems. Though the second half of the set certainly improves, it remains difficult to escape the feeling of anti-climax; whether perpetuated by the band’s motionless ploughing through of their set or Crutchfield’s lack of sociability, the band seemingly fail to charm the audience back from the brink of their earlier woes. When the audience is very nearly impeccable in its quietness (there’s a solitary cough and the dropping of a plastic glass) during the gentle ‘Blue’, it’s hard to decide whether to perceive this as unconditional affection or wearied ennui.

There are decent moments though; ‘Coast To Coast’ is a pretty racket displaying Crutchfield’s flair for four chord, indie-pop hooks while ‘La Loose’ is a pleasant harmony-led ditty of uncertain optimism nicely embellished by psychedelic keyboard lines and gliding guitar fills. Also, the dual harmonies between Crutchfield and her twin sister occasionally bring an element of beauty such as in their appearing amongst the plodding guitar riffs of ‘Air.’

Through formality rather than any kind of rapt demands from the audience, Crutchfield returns to the stage alone for the encore. The solo spot serves as the best platform from which to appreciate her adept vocals (a husky delivery with a tinge of Kimya Dawson) as she delivers ‘Summer of Love’ and, to a cheer of recognition from the crowd, early song ‘Grass Stain’. Evidently enjoying the delicate intimacy of this final song, one or two audience members at the front begin a clap along which causes Crutchfield to stop playing immediately – “That’s really going to throw me off, no one has ever tried clapping before.” She finishes the song and departs from the stage with a simple “Thank you”.

The encore provides a condensed insight into the nature of tonight’s show. Full of promise and with enough quality material to deliver a memorable gig experience, unfortunate mishaps and a disconnected, prevailing awkwardness leaves this particular Waxahatchee performance falling some way short.

Scott Hammond