Waxahatchee brings band of wayward Americans to Vancouver

Waxahatchee and Bonny Doon at Wise Hall, 2/24/19

Photo by Mary Collier

A bustling, sold-out audience in East Vancouver came to a standstill as Katie Crutchfield strummed her first few chords at the Wise Hall on Sunday.  

The Alabama-based singer-songwriter, most famous for her work as frontwoman of Waxahatchee, was the most recent indie rock act to play the small venue nestled in a residential area just east of Commercial Drive.

Until recently, the hall mostly attracted local musicians. But now the venue has become a hot spot for popular indie artists passing through Vancouver. How to Dress Well, Alex Cameron, Shame and Eleanor Friedberger have all played the Wise Hall over the past year. Local heroes Wolf Parade are playing there this Wednesday.

The opening act suited the Wise Hall nicely. Bonny Doon, a four-piece with an apparent soft spot for the Australian cult-classic The Castle, play a hazy style of alt-country, like a folkier version of the New Jersey-based band Real Estate. Funnily enough, Alex Bleeker from Real Estate played bass for Bonny Doon on Sunday, covering for Joshua Brooks.

Bonny Doon. Photo by Mary Collier

The self-described “wayward Americans” from Detroit played several highlights from their last full-length release, Longwave. The title track from that album, a catchy piece of melancholy featuring a tapestry of crisp guitar lines, sounded like a long lost cut off of Wilco’s 2004 release A Ghost Is Born.

After their set, a couple of members from Bonny Doon shuffled some gear around, unveiling a keyboard before the main act walked on stage.

As soon as Crutchfield began strumming her guitar, a hush immediately fell over the audience. She started on her own, playing a couple of songs on her acoustic before Bonny Doon, her backing band on this tour, joined her. Fresh from a wardrobe change, each member of the group was now smartly dressed in colourful button-up shirts. Crutchfield, meanwhile, commanded the stage in a forest green, mechanic-style coverall.

Waxahatchee’s 2018 EP Great Thunder was a noted departure from Crutchfield’s earlier releases. These were records often marked by garage punk energy, a sound akin to Sleater-Kinney if the Olympia, Washington trio had grown up in the South. Instead of crunching guitars and thumping bass, Great Thunder was a singularly sparse affair, featuring little more than soft touches of piano and acoustic guitar. But, the one constant: Crutchfield’s voice.

Photo by Mary Collier

From an emotional solo rendition of Noccalula” off her breakout debut record American Weekend, to a folkier yet still punchy version of “Silver” from 2017’s Out in the Storm, Crutchfield’s voice soared to the rafters of the small venue in a set that spanned her catalogue.  

At one point, a smiling Crutchfield told the audience how much she loved their excited energy, saying it made her feel like it wasn’t a school night.

“We played a church last night,” she said. “Those were more Sunday vibes. Tonight, I’m getting Saturday vibes.”

Crutchfield and co. ended the evening with a spirited cover of Lucinda Williams’ “Fruits of My Labour,” leaving concert-goers smiling as they drifted out of the hall.