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There Were Too Many People at the Waxahatchee Show!

This was not the ideal way to experience the mild turmoil of Katie Crutchfield's country-rock.

Facebook: Waxahatchee

In her sleeveless T, leather pants, and a trucker hat that she flung with zest into the crowd at a climatic moment during her set opener, “3 Sisters,” Katie Crutchfield looked every bit the rock star at Waxahatchee’s all-too sold-out Palace Theatre show Friday night in St. Paul. As on her latest album, Tigers Blood, the song built with careful deliberation, verse by verse, before the drums muscled in to take it over the top. It’s an old rock trick, true, but let’s be honest, are there any new rock tricks? 

The rest of the show was short on such dynamic shifts and stagecraft, with a very capable band instead settling into a midtempo country-rock groove and the singer draping her serrated drawl like a coarse yet cozy blanket over the crowd. As emotionally turbulent as Crutchfield’s lyrics can be, this wasn’t a night of high drama; here was a sound to lose yourself in like a foggy sea, with the band casting you this way and that but fixing emotional guardrails to keep you from being swept overboard.

It was the second date of Waxahatchee’s tour, and as on opening night in Crutchfield’s adopted hometown of Kansas City, the band essentially played the new album in order, with one song kept in reserve for an encore. Tucked in between the new tunes were tracks from Tigers Blood’s predecessor, Saint Cloud (eight), and the duo album she recorded with Jess Williamson as Plains, I Walked With You a Ways (three). The only omission from the K.C. setlist was (sorry!) an encore of Songs: Ohia’s “Farewell Transmission,” which Crutchfield performed with her partner Kevin Morby.

Waxahatchee played nothing released before 2020, which I’m sure disappointed anyone who’d been gathered to Crutchfield’s cult during her formative, word-drunk Cerulean Salt phase, just as it slightly bummed this fan of Out in the Storm’s musically and lyrically crisp alt-rock. But I get it: Saint Cloud was a pivotal moment for Crutchfield, crystalizing her musical approach and attracting an audience that can fill (and then some) the Palace. This music is what Waxahatchee is now.

Over the past five years, as a performer and a writer, Crutchfield has achieved a musically reassuring consistency that’s too idiosyncratic to call formulaic but can still feel overly comfortable. As I wrote (favorably—I know sometimes I make it hard to tell) about Saint Cloud when it was released, just after the start of the pandemic, “The drums divide time into coherent increments, the guitars fall into place with crisp precision, the melodies resolve neatly according to preordained patterns—in other words, Katie Crutchfield clearly wrote these 11 songs for a world that made a whole lot more sense than the one you woke up to this morning.” 

Fine-to-great as the songs on Tigers Blood are (I’m pretty sure I like it better than Jay does) this M.O. has come to feel a bit static. Let me quote myself one last time on Saint Cloud: ”As her voice aches toward sanity, the onetime poet of unkempt emotion chafes against its imagined constraints.” That's less true of the new album, though there can be a thrilling tension between the control of the music and the intensity of the arguments and insights. And for some reason that slackens live.

Or maybe I had a hard time immersing myself in the show because, to put it simply, there were too damn many people there. I don’t like to complain about these things because I get comped, but if I’d paid $35 for GA I would not have been satisfied with the intermittent glimpses of Crutchfield I caught on tiptoe, while hoping the taller people in front of me didn’t lean in to talk to each other and obstruct my view. And don't just take it from me: The overselling of the Palace has become a common online gripe, and on Friday the 2,500-capacity venue was packed.

But a more ingrained problem is that, as powerful an instrument as it is, Crutchfield’s voice comes across best when blended with a prominent collaborator’s. Stripped of MJ Lenderman’s harmonies, “Right Back to It” was merely moving rather than wrenching. The three Plains songs suffered just the tiniest bit from a lack of Williamson—at times, unfairly, I even thought about Williamson’s show at the Parkway last month, which cultivated an intimacy that Crutchfield didn’t attempt. 

Quote her lyrics all you want, but Crutchfield’s chief allure rests in her oversized but never unkempt voice. It’s almost too distinctively suited to her peculiar prosody. She’s most effective as a singer, rather than simply as a vocal presence, when she deviates from the standard rhythms of her work. This came across most effectively during “365,” the Tigers Blood cut that Crutchfield had set aside for the encore. The way she flips up into her higher register on “I catch your same-SEASE” and “buckling at the KNEES,” and again on “When you fail I FAIL/When you fly, I FLY” can burrow right into your core.

Crutchfield led the encore with “Oxbow,” the opening cut from Saint Cloud, which contains a line I consider paradigmatic: “When dreams become concrete they feel trite.” Written early in Crutchfield’s sobriety, it encapsulates a feeling common to folks in that state, a belief that life going forward will be all about accepting limitations. Lyrically, Crutchfield remains untrammeled; musically, though, she’s since accepted some parameters she might instead go beyond. There was nothing trite about Waxahatchee’s performance. But sometimes it was so concrete it felt vaporous.


3 Sisters
Evil Spawn
Ice Cold
Can't Do Much
Problem With It
The Eye
Right Back to It
Burns Out at Midnight
Lone Star Lake
Crimes of the Heart
Line of Sight
Ruby Falls
The Wolves
Tigers Blood


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