Waxahatchee’s most recent album Saint Cloud released two weeks into the first phase of the global pandemic in 2020 so fans didn’t get the full force of the songs in the live setting for many months and perhaps not until this 2022 tour. But that setback didn’t seem to diminish Katie Crutchfield’s enthusiasm and spirit for the music and this performance at the Ogden Theatre in Denver showcased the record in almost its entirety with some choice cuts from earlier records. But Saint Cloud was the focus of the generous nineteen song set.
Opening the proceedings was Madi Diaz. The prolific singer-songwriter stood on the large Ogden state with her drummer Adam Popick and held your attention with her luminous and strong vocals accompanied by her spare yet expressive guitar work that conveyed a distinctive yet grainy tone. It was an effect that set her apart from many other artists operating with a similar palette of sounds. Diaz hadn’t spent a lot of time live performing for two years either and expressed a great deal of gratitude for people taking the time to give her 2021 album History Of A Feeling a listen. Her songs about the pitfalls of relationships hit with a wit and nuance of understanding that provided both a clarity and an embrace of the messy emotions that can flood your brain when you’re in the moment. “New Person, Old Place” was especially poetic and vivid in its imagery but her whole set felt very intimate and strikingly honest but not cruel and a good fit as an opener for Waxahatchee.
One of the recent times Waxahatchee performed in Denver was also at the Ogden on September 30, 2018 opening for Courtney Barnett and accompanied by an electric guitar player to her acoustic and no one else. Of course the songs were good and Katie Crutchfield’s vocals strong and her lyrics personally incisive. But this time out, headlining her own show, Crutchfield had a bass player, two electric guitarists that also played keyboards and a full kit drummer. Yet with this expanded line-up the singer lost none of that intimate feel and air of vulnerability bolstered by confidence and a fluidity in the transitions between songs throughout the show.
The aesthetic was reminiscent of an old country concert with Crutchfield in what might be described as a minimalist ball gown. And that little bit of theater gave the show a slightly different quality than if Crutchfield was dressed up in something less formal. The vibe seemed Memphis that combined the rustic with a touch of glamour reinforced before anyone took stage by “The Ballad of El Goodo” by Big Star playing over the sound system as the introductory music. The effect made the Waxahatchee songs seem more intimate and impactful. It also helped to bring in focus Crutchfield’s lyrics which always seem so direct in tone whether singing to someone in the song or addressing herself, a quality that gives the sense that she’s singing directly you about something you’ve experienced in your own life. The wordplay seemed even more effective as with the playful and clever couplets of “Hell.” Perhaps less obvious was the way all three guitarists, if one includes Crutchfield, synced together to create truly elegant and subtly intricate guitar melodies that created a nuanced atmosphere within which Crutchfield’s commanding voice and presence could stand out and stand clear.
“Lilacs” was dedicated to Madi Diaz whose own songs of romantic mishap had a similarly poignant resonance and Crutchfield told us that “This song is a breakup song so if anybody needs that, this is before you” before performing “Never Been Wrong.” The set took us through a broad range of human emotions but always with great creativity and nuanced insight. The self-deprecating, melancholic insecurity of “Singer’s No Star,” struggles with one’s own shortcomings on several songs but definitely on “War” and existential uncertainty and coming to terms with not necessarily knowing which is the best path forward as on “St. Cloud.” Waxahatchee covered a lot of emotional territory without trying to put a try hard polish of positivity on anything with the underlying suggestion that despite how deeply you feel that you’ve got nothing left and things seem like too much to bear that you can find some thread of a reason to at least keep struggling and enjoy momentary joys and strong feelings that burn through the mundane haze of every day life now and then. So it seemed entirely appropriate that the set proper ended on the song “Fire” from Saint Cloud after beginning the show with “Oxbow” to suggest some heavy work ahead. And if that isn’t impressive set order planning it’s hard to say what would be.