I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve listened to any of the four albums Katie Crutchfield has released as Waxahatchee. Permanently on my phone for emergency listens, the confessional air of each feels like the replaying of those intense, sprawling, revealing conversations after a couple of glasses of wine; waking up the next morning worrying that you’ve over-shared. But as the conversation echoes around inside your head, the answers to questions you didn’t know you were asking become stronger, and the voices of your friends prop you up and propel you forward.
I’ve also seen Waxahatchee play at countless festivals, never missing performances that seemed to match the mood perfectly as you retreat from your regular life and just enjoy being free for a couple of days at least. But sometimes this freedom to enjoy yourself allows you to shy away from immersing yourself fully in what is on stage, relying on the familiarity of the songs to provide comfort.
So it came as a surprise to realise I’d never seen a Waxahatchee headline show. So just over a week after her set at Primavera, I found myself at Oval Space in Hackney, a venue perfectly suited to the London summer, with huge windows, a rooftop bar and crowds spilling out onto the balcony to gaze at the sunset. It’s a taste of the freedom festivals provide, but that is where the similarity ends.
As the sun sets, Crutchfield opens, alone, with Chapel Of Pines, a song belonging to her former band Great Thunder. The crowd is hushed as she repeats “Would you go?” over and over, both questioning and daring the audience. As she is joined by her talented backing band, including her sister Allison, it becomes clear that no-one is going anywhere. In a confined space, what sounds relaxed and at times dreamy out in the open air, takes on an air of danger. Guitars push to the very edges, as the keyboard throbs. Throughout, Crutchfield’s voice teeters on the brink, raw with emotion.
The majority of the set consists of songs taken from her fourth album, Out In The Storm, released nearly a year ago, a heartbreaking account of a destructive relationship. The distance from then to now doesn’t seem to have dampened the intensity of her feelings, and as the venue becomes stifling it’s hard to tell if it’s summer heat or Crutchfield’s memories. There are moments of lightness: a quick chat with the audience, an appreciation of her bandmates; reminders that it’s in the past, and she’s enjoying the catharsis brought by playing these songs.
One of the upsides of not playing an album release tour is that the audience is often keen to hear what’s coming next, and as she introduces a new song at the start of the encore, the crowd roars with approval. If Can’t Do Much About It, a pretty love song with a side swipe of inevitable despair, is anything to go by, the next Waxahatchee album will be as honest and relatable as the previous four.
Waxahatchee played: Chapel Of Pines, Recite Remorse, Silver, Poison, Misery Over Dispute, 8 Ball, The Dirt, Sparks Fly, Never Been Wrong, Coast To Coast, La Loose, No Question, Peace & Quiet, Under A Rock Encore: Can’t Do Much About It, Downtowns Lights (Kevin Morby cover), Fade