Usually when a cover song gets tacked onto the end of a concert it's done in good fun, a rowdy and/or goofy selection to send folks off into the night smiling.
The lovingly chosen Dolly Parton tune that ended Sunday night's Waxahatchee concert at First Avenue, however, actually had folks leaving with joy tears in their eyes. It was an exclamation point on how touching, meaningful and often riveting the rest of the 90-minute performance was.
A stage pseudonym for singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield — taken from a creek in Alabama where she grew up —Waxahatchee has steadily risen in stature over nine years and five albums, evolving from a lo-fi indie-rock project to a richly textured Americana/folk-rock showpiece for her wound-licking songs.
Crutchfield, 32, earned her biggest accolades yet with last year's elegantly burning record "Saint Cloud," which arrived just as the pandemic hit. Written after she achieved sobriety, moved to Kansas City and pretty clearly just grew to like and deal with herself better, the album wound up being a perfect listening companion through a year and a half of lockdown, as comforting as it was exhilarating.
"We didn't get to tour [this record] in a timely fashion," Crutchfield lamented near the start of the set, "but we're here now."
Played in their entirety Sunday (but not in order), the 11 songs on "Saint Cloud" sounded even more triumphant and redemptive live despite being benched for 18 months.
"I want it all," Crutchfield sang over and over in the repetitious, Lucinda Williams-like opening song "Oxbow," lifting up her arms and showing off the billowy sleeves of a vintage red polka-dot dress that looked inherited from June Carter Cash.
She kept asking for more, too, like in the delicate riser "Fire:" "Will you let me believe that I broke through?" she sang in her most willowy and wavering voice. "Tomorrow could feel like 100 years later / I'm wiser and slow and attuned."
After recruiting Michigan band Bonny Doon as her backing group on tour in 2018, Crutchfield took them into the studio for "Saint Cloud" and brought them back on the road again, sounding like a well-gelled unit this time out. Their psyche-twang song "Long Wave" made for a nice mid-show bonus, too.
With nervier and more chaotic older Waxahatchee tunes dropped in here and there — including "Recite Remorse," the misery-baiting "Peace and Quiet" and the epicly rocking "Silver" — Crutchfield & Co. flashed back to some of what's in her rearview mirror on "Saint Cloud." But so much of the concert (like last year's album) was about looking ahead no matter what.
Which led to that perfect closing number, "one that has been cheering us up every night," Crutchfield noted before launching into Parton's universally spiritual "Light of a Clear Blue Morning," also featured on an expanded edition of "Saint Cloud."
"It's been a long dark night / It's been a long hard fight," she sang to a captivated, packed, vaccine-required and (at her request) masked crowd, promising them everything is going to be all right. It sounded good enough to be believable.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658