For fans of indie singer-songwriter Waxahatchee, Saint Cloud, released in the very beginnings of the COVID-19 quarantine, was a record that provided comfort in an era of pandemic-induced isolation. With its intentional instrumentals and lyrics spanning vast geographies, love and sobriety, Saint Cloud offered much-needed companionship to listeners in a time when being apart was necessary. With the return to touring, the songs that have comforted listeners through a season of isolation now soundtrack the bliss of people being together (albeit, wearing face masks) to enjoy live music once more. This shared joy resounded in the Castro Theater Sept. 22 as Waxahatchee delivered a stunning performance, a prolonged celebration of her best artistic work to date.
Opener Katy Kirby and her band set the stage for an evening of intimate music. Engaging the audience with her charming awkwardness, Kirby delivered a captivating performance of her debut album Cool Dry Place. Starting with a mellow performance of “Eyelids,” Kirby acknowledged her Christian music upbringing, joking that starting a set with a slow song “gets you ready for Jesus.” Notably, “Portals” involved the musical saw, and a cover of “So Much Wine, Merry Christmas,” made use of impressive harmonies with band members’ backing vocals. Playing through such difficulties as a broken guitar string during “Cool Dry Place,” Kirby and her band seemed to win the hearts of the audience members previously unfamiliar with her work. More than a few members of the crowd gave Kirby a standing ovation.
For many in the audience, this was a return from over a year’s hiatus from live shows. One could feel the excitement pulsing through the crowd beneath the venue’s famous leatherette ceiling. The stage was decorated minimally, with vines of leaves and flowers twisted around mic stands. As the lights dimmed and band members stepped onstage, anticipation built throughout the crowd until Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield entered in an ethereal white prairie dress, greeting the excited audience with a wave before jumping into a powerful performance of “Oxbow.”
Although it was a seated venue, the lively crowd showed enthusiasm via whistling, cheering for songs and singing along to favorites from Saint Cloud such as “Lilacs,” and “Can’t Do Much,” the latter having made the infamous Barack Obama’s favorite songs of 2020 list. Some spirited audience members standing in the side aisles of the theatre danced through the show.
In addition to Saint Cloud tracks, Crutchfield revisited earlier work to the delight of devoted fans, performing “Silver” off of Out in the Storm and “Noccalula” off her debut American Weekend along with other songs spanning her five albums. Crutchfield delivered strong vocals and had great chemistry with her band, resulting in a performance that was on par with, and in some cases, bested the studio recordings of her discography.
Keeping transitional chitchat to a minimum, Crutchfield let the music mostly speak for itself, pausing occasionally to thank audience members for coming and introducing songs. The Waxahatchee band included several members of Detroit-based band Bonny Doon, who Crutchfield introduced individually during a performance of their song “Long Wave.”
As the night winded down, Crutchfield announced that they were performing their last song of the evening. The crowd erupted in cheers and stood from their seats to dance and sing along when the distinct opening chords of “Fire” began, clapping along and swaying to the beat.
After a few minutes off stage, while the standing crowd cheered for more music, Crutchfield and her band returned for three more songs, ending the night on an optimistic note with a cover of Dolly Parton’s “Light of a Clear Blue Morning,” which she dedicated to the audience.
After a long 1 ½-years of staying at home, the declaration “I can see the light of a brand new day” was a fitting way to conclude a breathtaking night.