Waxahatchee, the musical face of Birmingham native Katie Crutchfield, has been going strong for over a decade, but last year’s Saint Cloud may be Crutchfield’s masterpiece.
She has always been a strong songwriter, but these last couple of records have really showcased Katie Crutchfield’s songwriting talents comparable to the best in the business, especially in Waxahatchee’s most recent LP, Saint Cloud, which came out last year on Merge Records. It’s a ride from beginning to the ending “St. Cloud,” which sounds like it was strummed out on the front porch while the sun sinks behind the trees.
Rufus Wainwright is back with new pop-oriented material with Unfollow the Rules and also a new tour, leading him to DC and The Anthem on a recently cooling early Autumn night.
This pop reinvention follows Wainwright’s work on an opera, Prima Donna (his second; the first being Hadrian) and an LP of songs based on the work of William Shakespeare. (Shakespeare and the opera play heavily throughout his body of work as far back as his debut and “Damned Ladies” — one to definitely check out!)
I have to admit that until a good friend of mine turned me onto them a few years ago, Lord Huron wasn’t on my radar. But one spin of Strange Tails and I was hooked. I hadn’t been able to catch them on stage however — that is until Monday night at the MECU Pavilion in Baltimore.
There’s something to the music of Lord Huron that flows from aesthetics of great fiction, whether it be pulp novels of the turn of the last century in Strange Trails; idealized visions of the future in Vide Noir; or the imagined world of early variety television that inhabits Long Lost, the most recent release from this LA-by-way-of-Lansing quartet. There’s a mystic quality that takes the listener along for a ride and keeps them coming back. So, on a hot afternoon overlooking the Baltimore Harbor, I had the great fortune to witness Lord Huron as they took the stage on their first tour since music touring stopped due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Just before things started closing down, just before 2020 was the last time I saw Wilco perform at The Anthem and hot on the heels of the release of their last LP, Ode to Joy. Since the nearly two years since I’d seen them last, Jeff Tweedy and the band have kept fans engaged with things like the Instagram show (there has to be a better word for this) “The Tweedy Show,” broadcast from Jeff’s home with his family and sometimes guests like the other members of Wilco — a homemade variety show with Jeff, Sammy, and Spencer Tweedy often singing / guitar playing / drumming to Tweedy and Wilco songs along with some fantastic covers.
And just in the past month, Jeff has even started a weekly substack which is like a personal newsletter / inspirational / confessional, maybe called “Starship Casual” where the songwriter shares musings and even rough bits of new songs (or songs-to-be). Basically, the band has been keeping things fresh and us fans fed, so to speak. So, after the announcement that Wilco would be touring again this summer, I couldn’t wait to see the guys — Jeff, John, Mikael, Nels, Pat, and Glenn — back again in the DC area. This time at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland.
I have a foggy recollection of the last time I saw Modest Mouse before they took the stage Wednesday night at The Anthem. The time before the last time was back in 1996 at the now defunct Fletchers in Baltimore. Back then the band had released their debut LP, This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About — a three-piece performing on a small stage — and to see where the band started to now has been incredible!
If most of 2020 (and, let’s face it, most of 2021) was a pressure tank waiting to explode, then the packed house at The Fillmore Silver Spring was the symbolic release Wednesday night as Japanese Breakfast performed to an audience eager for live music. And they certainly got that rush of excitement when, straight off a New York Times bestseller, “Crying in H Mart,” and an acclaimed new album, Jubilee, Michelle Zauner, the creative force behind Japanese Breakfast, kicked off her US Tour with the first stop at The Fillmore.
Not to sound like a Doubting Thomas, but as recently just a few months ago, I don’t think I would have believed it. But Wednesday night, I found myself walking into the Ottobar for the first indoor club show I’ve experienced in nearly a year and a half. Definitely the longest time I’ve gone without stepping foot in the my home away from home in probably 20 years. But if there was a show that bring us all back home it was seeing Mac McCaughan and Jim Wilbur of Superchunk on that raised stage, playing to a rapt, and vaccinated, audience that night.
One thing you can say about The Wood Brothers, they sure know how to put on a show. And it was a celebration that seemed to signal good things to come.
It goes, really, without saying, but it’s been a tough year. For many in attendance at the Frederick Fairgrounds Sunday evening, this was the first time seeing a live performance since the winter of 2020 — a long thaw indeed! But as Oliver (guitar/vocals) and Chris Wood (bass/harmonica/vocals) and multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix hit the stage things started heating up. That’s both figurative and literal as the summer heat kept drive-in attendees going back for some much needed refreshments from their cars.
What can be said for a year that began with so much promise but ends, well, like we are all feeling stuck in an alternate dimension. Looking back on my calendar which went so off the rails after two and a half months in, it really does look like a glimpse into a world that should have been but one that’s now alternate history.
But even in this bizarro world of COVID-19 there was some great music created at homes, online, socially distanced, and even on the streets! There is nothing that can beat the feel of a crowded show, the thrill of being there, and the joyous exhaustion that follows, but this past year we saw people pulling together – giving what they could – to keep live music alive despite every roadblock tossed in its way.
Since these lists are often limited by “best of” or Top 10, I want to include, well, all of those performances I caught this past year. There weren’t many, but each one I relive when I hear a song from a brilliant artist I’ve seen or go through photos from the past year. Here are my Top 12 Musical Moments of 2020 in chronological order.