LIVE REVIEW: Waxahatchee, Girlpool, Fleabite – Live in Cambridge (5.13.15)
by Chad Jewett
Waxahatchee, Girlpool, and Fleabite — as seen in the cozy, stylishly spare setting of Cambridge’s Sinclair club – offered three crafted variations on a certain kind of conversational, texture-heavy indie-rock. For Fleabite, natives of greater Boston and the evening’s opening band, that meant fuzzed pop-punk stretched out and blurred into wide swaths. Like, say, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Fleabite takes pop fundamentals and slows them down to woozy hazes. When a hook or an unexpected turn of phrase emerges, it works. Dinosaur, Jr. might be a touchstone, except that guitarist Jade Sylvan’s leads, which might have helped buoy the songs’ ultra-thick, gummy surfaces, were too frequently buried (The Sinclair’s mix tends to be bass-heavy), more often glittering like the spare bits of mineral in a sandbox where they could have been ecstatic highlights. One found oneself hoping to hear a version of Fleabite where everything is rearranged and reapportioned ever-so-slightly.
Conversely, Girlpool, a duo of bassist Harmony Tividad and guitarist Cleo Tucker, worked in spare minimalism. At certain points, the pair would whittle things down to single haunting notes that — without any rhythmic accompaniment besides whatever ESP kept the two in lock-step — would just suddenly appear according to some logic shared by the two. At points you might find yourself trying to tap out exactly what count the pair were following. Usually you’d be wrong, but Tividad and Tucker made the tricky timing of their spartan arrangements seem effortless. The duo have a keen instinct for how to make two voices add up to something beyond the sum of their parts: certain lines would be sung in matching unison while others would loft into striking harmonies. Between songs the two had a warm, funny rapport, and at their best, you could imagine the scratchy fabric of the living room couch where most of Girlpool’s responsive, airy indie-pop must have been sculpted.
Waxahatchee’s set was both perfectly executed and strangely subdued. It was both hard not to be swept up in the dense, bass-y whorl of opener “Breathless” and hard not to notice that the band itself seemed distant from their own excellent performance and the easy beauty of this year’s outstanding Ivy Tripp. At times the performance felt a heartbeat or two slow – which in reality probably means only that the band was sticking to the pace at which the songs were actually recorded – which could give a certain oomph to, say, the punchy emo-folk of “Grey Hair” (swiftly emerging as one of the best songs from Ivy Tripp), but which gave a faint feeling of gloom to the otherwise sparkling “Under A Rock”. Later, the band reworked Cerulean Salt highlight “Lips and Limbs” into a fleet, breezy pop-punk jaunt, and the results were wonderful. More generally, Katie Crutchfield’s voice was excellent throughout, not only ably handling vocal parts that already sounded daunting (take the belting required by “<”), but adding the sort of subtle grace notes that great singers tend to scribble into the margins of songs once they become worn in. It was also nice to hear songs from Ivy Tripp, already noticeably denser than the pared-down world of Cerulean Salt, given added density by a five-piece band (sister Allison Crutchfield gamely pivoted from guitar to harmonies to keyboards like this band’s Mike Mogis). Waxahatchee is the sort of group that could cut a live LP worth listening to. Even on what seemed, intangibly, like some sort of off-night for the quintet, the results sounded superb.