Review: Waxahatchee, Electric Ballroom.

Despite having “absolutely no perspective on the live show,” Katie Crutchfield – aka Waxahatchee – has some pretty firm convictions when it comes to this particular touring incarnation. “I think it sounds huge” she enthuses in a Camden dressing room that, perhaps aptly given the situation, is hotter than Hell itself. For reasons unbeknownst to the both of us, a radiator’s still on; but with things hotting up around the release of Crutchfield’s third full-length effort – April’s Ivy Tripp – this incidentally plays pretty well into indolent introductory platitudes, by the seems of things…

“Our drummer, she hits so hard” she continues, referencing Ashley Arnwine who, pretty unprecedentedly, plays with all three bands seen onstage this evening. “And there are three guitars, also! So it’s like a real, proper rock band.” Her enthusiasm is not only readily discerned, but so too fucking infectious; and sure enough, tonight’s introductory triumvirate comprising Under a Rock, Misery Over Dispute and Lively makes for a rather, well, “lively” arrival. Less impressive is a reconstituted take on another number from the superlative Cerulean Salt of 2013, with a rockier, free-wheeling Lips and Limbs lacking that inimitably blasé simplicity of its recorded counterpart, but such is life. Or rather the nature of any which live show, at least.

As a counterpoint of sorts, and reverting to earlier in the evening’s proceedings, Katie considers the subsequent Ivy Tripp a more complex release, with “a lot of nuance and random instrumentation”; fundamental elements she felt compelled to include, and include more coherently, than in any previous setup. As such, “basically, when I formed this version of the band, it was really important to me that we attempt to sound more like the records. Because in the past, we were like, ‘Fuck it! These songs are so simple, we’ll just play them however we want.’ And while I think that that’s interesting for us, and I think a lot of [listeners] really liked that, I just thought [trying to make it sound more like the record] would be a cool thing to do.” And so it transpires to prove, with the stirring, inert stillness of Air and the spry Grey Hair among those most accurately recreated tonight. Otherwise, the slow-burning, smouldering Bonfire unites both Instagram-literate teens – reminiscent, one assumes, of the “young, teenage girls” who turned out to support Katie when she in turn supported Tegan and Sara around the release of Cerulean Salt – and the wizened elders stood beside them in unbridled delight. (Visible evidence of the forever “divers[ifying] fanbase” to which she refers a few hours before, therefore…)

And quite rightly so, because it certainly feels as though for all the furore that has steadily intensified around the now-infamous Philadelphia ‘scene’, this bombastic a “proper rock” show was what the city – or perhaps more accurately, those more musically inclined denizens thereof – has been building up to for years now. This, or so it would seem, is thus the result of several tireless years’ endeavour on behalf of everybody involved, with the visceral brilliance of sister Allison’s Swearin’ as conclusive an influence as Sam Cook-Parrott’s indomitable self-deprecation. “Music, right now, is actually pretty cool; it’s pretty good. So that’s something that I’ve been more positive about” she’ll proclaim, audibly deriving considerably more inspiration from the modern-day than some halcyon ’90s epoch as has, somewhat erroneously, been stated all too incessantly of late.

Rockier, more raucous cuts nonetheless come thick, fast, and slathered in a thickened encrustation of distortion: a whiplashing rendition of Waiting recalls enduring Portlanders The Thermals’ eminently durable The Body, The Blood, The Machine; the Where Is My Mind?-ed Peace and Quiet is not only anything but, but also benefits from the Pixies’ supreme proficiency when it comes to the loud-quiet dynamic; Coast To Coast proves a compelling whirlpool of slackened drum thwacks and rough-around-the-edged guitar jabs that blows Girlpool’s preceding show clean out the water; while Poison slips down a right treat, intoxicating all within earshot. Throughout, it’s the inspired decision to bring Allison along that elevates the live show to all-new intensities and impact, though: reconsolidating her current intentions to at least “attempt to sound more like the record”, sensing that “the backup vocals are pretty important to the recordings” comprising Ivy Tripp, it sounds as though the decision was something of a no-brainer in Katie’s “cranium” in the end. “I do all the backups on the record, so I just thought, ‘Who better to do my backups than someone who has the exact same DNA as me?’ She’s really good; she’s a really good musician. Very solid; I would’ve gotten her onboard, even if we weren’t related” she says with considered, so too considerate sororal relish.

And there are, without doubt, various instances at which the sisters – congregated together stage-left – intertwine their two voices to greater effect than Katie ever could her own on the album. Blue, Pt. II, for one, comes across akin to two takes of the one same vocal line recited in mono; so too La Loose – loosely redolent of a lo-fi La Roux – benefits from the musical synergy in which they so obviously share. And there is then Air – the colourful, fully laden chorus of which borders on a sort of Springsteenian anthemia that befits this being their “biggest show to date” – that demonstrates just how far Crutchfield has come in a comparatively short space of time; a marker of how remarkably effortlessly she’s able to fascinate and infatuate with her lovelorn, nervy songs of incertitude.

Lyrically, when contrasted with both Cerulean Salt and American Weekend before it, she considers the reflecting on those which consummate her latest being that bit more intricate, if less intimate a “fair” one; subsequently describing these as being less “experience-based, and more [her] writing about broader, more general ideas; being a person sorta stuff. It’s less, like, ‘I’m sad; you’re not texting me back.’ It’s more observational; like, ‘Life is fucked up!’” Nevertheless, during this faithful representation of what is a rather more robust and rounded sound, the lyrics – “the part [she] spend[s] the most time on when it comes to songwriting” – can tend to get that little bit lost tonight.

And so, although there’s plenty to be said for this initial, blistering forty-five minutes or so, the ensuing segment – during which Crutchfield reverts to ruefulness, with four songs then performed solo – corroborates her now “want[ing] to make another more stripped-down, solo-y sort of a record, like [American Weekend].” From that very record, there is a Billy Bragg-ing defiance to Grass Stain; the same goes for Summer of Love, as her searching, yearning words – offset by nothing but gleaming strums of electric guitar – ring with crystalline allure. “The summer of love is a photo of us” she plaintively laments, with all the wistful longing that Angel Olsen was able to muster at this very same venue late on last year; this all the more personal, introspective section ineffably beguiling.

Whether recalling the long, hard dissolution of “love” (the strangely chorus-less Swan Dive, during which she bewails: “You hold on to the past; you make yourself miserable/ And I’m ruled by seasons, and sadness that’s inexplicable/ And we will find a way to be lonely any chance we get/ And I’ll keep having dreams about loveless marriage and regret”) or reminiscing about spittle that stinks of “Pilsner brew and cigarettes” (the thus suitably breathtaking, ‘tragicasual’ breakup number, Noccalula), there is ample promotion of the notion that she’s not only “learn[t] to live onstage” (Grey Hair), but it’s there where she now thrives. Very evidently very much in her element, rarely before have her heartwrenching laments sounded quite so impactive; and so, in spite of her pronounced, repeated announcing: “We’re Waxahatchee,” and this being a relatively conventional “band” configuration, never before has said “band” seemed the one and only Katie Crutchfield, and Katie Crutchfield only…