On the night of its Tuesday album release, Alabama-born, Philadelphia-raised Waxahatchee brought a new breed of intimate punk to Black Cat.
Waxahatchee, the newest indie-music incarnation of lo-fi darling Katie Crutchfield, captivated the crowd with raw lyrics, balanced against a backdrop of pounding rock. Named for the creek near Crutchfield’s childhood home, Waxahatchee weds philosophical musings about loss and life with punk and classic ’90s indie-rock. While show openers Nox and The Goodbye Party set the stage and transformed the already alternative Black Cat into a bastion of grunge (well, the modified, hyper and socially aware 2015 version of grunge), Waxahatchee stole the show with its guitar rock.
Nox was exactly what one would expect from the band opening for the band opening for the main act. Better than a high school or typical college band, the Washington, D.C. all-girl trio conquered complex polyrhythms with apparent ease while belting out words that could barely be heard over the deafening bass. Their self-appointed label — “teenage pop-ish rock ’n’ roll band” — says it all.
Sure, Nox’s technical skill was present, and they’ve made it big enough to be playing gigs at the Black Cat, but they had the stage presence of self-conscious teenagers. Overly insecure in everything related to the crowd, it was as if Nox was hiding in their own heavy music. The guitarist and the bassist, maybe in a cliched attempt to be hardcore, played their respective instruments with disheveled hair covering their faces. Even though it established the night’s grungy atmosphere, Nox was about as memorable as the countless other teen bands you’ve been dragged to over the years.
It was when The Goodbye Party took the stage that the real show began. Unlike Nox, The Goodbye Party knew exactly what it was doing in both arranging their set and filling the space with garage-rock chaos. Its mix of heavy yet finely tuned arrangements, guided by the wicked guitar riffs and vintage wooden keyboard, echoed throughout the recesses of the club. Front man Michael Cantor had the perfect voice for the occasion: His tenor could hold a note but was not sugary by any stretch of the imagination. The Goodbye Party used noise extremely well; their entire lo-fi set was raw and real, perfectly paving the way for Waxahatchee.
Waxahatchee swept onto the stage dressed as the modern version of the southern gothic. Draped in black, sporting ripped jeans and signature hairstyles ranging from ’50s call girl to ’70s shag, Crutchfield and her four bandmates brought the roaring crowd to silence before they said a word. Their look, which was more than an artistic aesthetic, recalled the band’s diverse array of musical forefathers while simultaneously nodding to their own eclectic combination of punk, lo-fi and grunge styles.
From the first haunting piano ballad to the last rousing, guitar-soaked song, Waxahatchee’s southern roots were clear. Its swampy, upbeat rock was more melodic than The Last Goodbye’s Philadelphian urban grunge but still maintained the same interest in noise, albeit in a different way. Whether playing a slower, emotional number — usually meditating on loss, a common theme — or an in-your-face anthem, Waxahatchee had fantastic tone and layering. Each song was a treasure to be unraveled. On one level were the lyrics, on another were the guitars and heavy drums, and on yet another were the piano’s melodies. Each layer added greater depth to the music, making it not just a song or a set list, but an all-encompassing emotional experience.
If nothing else, Waxahatchee was intensely personal and raw. Crutchfield’s crystalline voice, with its echoes of southern twang, turned each new song into a confessional about the losses attached to growing up and the questions remaining once you’re “grown.” Sung with Crutchfield’s uncut alto, the proclamation, “When I am gone, at least I won’t be thinking,” in “Air” turns from resembling a morbid existential crisis to a poignantly realistic statement about the truths of life and the suffering life entails. Waxahatchee’s lyrics personify the reality of loss through wordplay and anecdotes — such as, “I left you out like a carton of milk” — that translate into universal statements.
Musically, Waxahatchee was built on standard guitar rock. The guitarists were very riff heavy, using a lot of open cords and hefty drumbeats, enshrouding Crutchfield’s vibrant yet rough voice with noise. Watching Waxahatchee live, I not only saw it, but I also felt it. I felt the drums reverberate throughout my body, felt the lyrics deep in my conscious and my heart. Waxahatchee was amazing live because it was real in every aspect of their performance, from the lyrics to the guitars to the self-deprecating interactions with the audience. With their vocal harmonies, phenomenal hardcore instrumentality and quirky stage presence, it’s no wonder why Waxahatchee is quickly gaining traction.
Margie Fuchs is a junior in the College. Face the Music appears every other Friday.