It’s a family affair this Bank Holiday Saturday in the Workman’s Club. Tonight’s acts are the projects of Katie and Allison Crutchfield, twin sisters from the great state of Alabama. Having played together since their teens in the Ackleys and the wonderfully named P.S Eliot, the two have gone their separate ways over the last few years, but have ended up cultivating a formidable, often overlapping level of critical excitement about their new work.
Settling for the opening slot (and the lesser portion of their parent’s affections, presumably) is Allison’s band Swearin’, co-led with her partner Kyle Gilbride. Their set draws from last year’s neglected self-titled debut, and their upcoming Surfing Strange LP, both built heavily on Frankensteinian assemblage of the best parts of 90s college rock. Jumping from sardonic punk to heartwarming Midwestern emo with barely a second to breathe between each song, they storm through their slot in what comes across like Girl Talk given free reign with the Matador Records back catalogue.
The songs are as infectiously raucous as you’d expect (the saccharine snark of ‘Kenosha’ in particular proves an unbeatable earworm), but are performed with surprising deftness. They admirably refrain from the easy route of either punk amateurism or slacker posturing and play a set that can only be described as tight and professional, adjectives not often thrown around for the spiritual descendants of Pavement & co. Clockwork precision keeps the band together, while Crutchfield’s detached, almost Zen demeanour is a compelling contrast to Gilbride’s angsty whine. With a new album dropping next week, they prove they have the potential for a comparable breakthrough to what Waxahatchee hit with Cerulean Salt.
While it’s easily arguable that Waxahatchee are the stronger of the sisters’ projects (the billing and crowd here certainly seem to think so), the other Crutchfield’s project has a lot more trouble settling into the venue. The one term most tossed around when discussing Crutchfield’s work is intimate, with good justification. There’s a deeply confessional element to her lyrics, even when they’re veiled in allusion, brought to the fore by the stark nature of the music. How that comes across live is a mixed bag.
From the off, the constant hum of conversation from all sides and the clink of glasses in the bar next door detract from the immersiveness of her songs, an unfortunate predicament for her and her backing band to face, but they plough on merrily. There are some excellent moments, including renditions of stunning numbers like ‘Brother Bryan’ and ‘Swan Dive’. She even manages a gleeful cover of Mama Cass’ ‘Make Your Own Kind of Music’, which of all the material offered seems to be one she has the best time playing. The soaring power pop of ‘Coast to Coast’ falls flat due to some vocal and timing hiccups, but she turns it around straight after with a powerful delivery of ‘Misery Over Dispute’. When the band go offstage, it’s been a solid show by any standard, but there’s a lingering feeling that we could have gotten more of the delicate side of her songbook.
The saving grace of the night is her return onstage for a solo encore, just her tender croon and some soft, strumming guitar. Knocking out ‘Tangled Envisioning’ and ‘Waiting’ in quick succession, and finishing on the painfully gorgeous ‘I Think I Love You’, Crutchfield has the crowd rapt in a moment that feels as personal as sitting at home with one of her records, but also deeply communal. For anyone looking back on the show, it’s this encore that’ll stand out above all else as the moment that captured the reason so many of us showed up to hear her.