Ever since I heard that indie rockers Waxahatchee were coming to Chattanooga, I was curious why they would perform at Sluggo’s and not at a larger venue in town. Don’t get me wrong, Sluggo’s is a great, intimate place to see a show, but it’s quite small in comparison to some of the other places the band has been playing on their current tour. But as I was soon to discover, there is a history between the band and the Scenic City.
Alongside my brother, we got there way too early, as we have a tendency to do—you never know when people will start to show up and plant those first feet in line. Chattanooga can be very unpredictable that way. But after we saw that no one had lined up yet, we headed upstairs to the restaurant part of Sluggo’s and got some dinner. If you’ve ever written off vegetarian food, I would suggest you try the sweet Thai chili bowl. It was the perfect start to an amazing evening.
But back to the show—we eventually noticed more people showing up, taking booths around us and ordering food and bottles of various types of beer. There was a good buzz flitting from table to table, the result of excitable music conversation and eager consumption of delicious food. When 8 p.m. rolled around, we walked downstairs to the entrance of the concert space and got in line with a handful of other people.
We milled around and talked for a while, catching stray bits of conversation about Waxahatchee’s new record and the two local bands who were opening for the visiting bands. Soon enough, we heard the first few tuning sounds of local band Pinecone and headed inside. What followed was a sludgy, psychedelic roar that felt raw and undiluted, a primal, blues-influenced mixture of metal and punk that easily carried the weight of these numerous influences. It was a short set filled with elongated grooves and cosmic feedback—and it was over far too quickly.
Up next was Snarky, a local punk band that fosters a howling density rolled up in the influences of bands like X-ray Spex and Dead Boys. Their punk is vicious but melodic and never forgets the importance of setting that noise on top of some memorable, albeit distorted, melodies. It was a loud blast of late ’70s New York grit and grime, and everyone there rolled along with each punch of bass, drums or electric guitar. After a remarkable but short set—this was punk, after all—the band filed out through the crowd to a chorus of deserved cheers.
After a quick breakdown of gear from the local bands, the stage was a flurry of activity as people set up pedal boards, keyboards, various guitars and a drum set emblazoned with the Waxahatchee name. There was a palpable energy circling inside Sluggo’s by this point, and it was ready to be released. Ought took the stage, and the sound of applause echoed off the cinder block and paneled walls. Hailing from Montreal, the band weaves a hypnotic blend of post-punk and art rock rhythms, evoking the skewed pop melodies of Talking Heads alongside the more caustic sounds of X and Wire.
They played songs from across their discography, including at least one new track from their forthcoming record, due out early next year. As opposed to the stark clarity of their previous releases, this one was empowered by a bouncier pop gait, although it was still filled with astringent guitar lines and vocalist Tim Darcy’s speak-sing vocals. It felt good to see so many people singing along to each song; you can sometimes get the feeling that no one around you likes the same kind of music as you, but when you have a group of individuals all raising their voices in unison, that feeling quickly dissolves and is replaced by a comforting assurance that you are never really alone in your love for music.
Now back to the history of Waxahatchee and Chattanooga or, more specifically, the history between Chattanooga and Allison Crutchfield, the sister of Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield. With both artists releasing phenomenal records this year, it was something of an unexpected surprise when both sisters took the stage. In hindsight, if I followed their social media more closely, I would have seen that they have been performing together on recent tours. After a few songs filled with a fierce indie rock ruckus, Allison took a moment to talk about how she had lived in Chattanooga when Sluggo’s first opened and how Katie had sent her the first few Waxahatchee songs while she was here. It was a great story and cemented her connections to the city.
Recognized for both its throwback college rock roots and the ways in which it subverts those same sounds, Waxahatchee plies its lean, lithe indie rock without an overriding sense of nostalgia. They don’t really see the need to weigh the music down with superfluous sounds, instead delivering a fascinating and feral rock roar that digs its barbs into your brain and refuses to let go. And they raised a glorious noise inside of Sluggo’s. The barrage of three guitars afforded them a musical weight that they used to leave a sizable crater in the center of the stage.
Katie and Allison possessed parallel energies, with sparks flying from their respective strings and voices. They easily matched one another’s ferocity, creating a nice dual perspective on what it takes to reshape the usual dynamics of indie rock. Brief but affecting, their set sent out shockwaves from the stage, sending ripples of concussive force out into the audience. By the end of the night, Sluggo’s was still standing, but the stage may or may not have been charred and missing a few pieces.
Joshua Pickard covers local and national music, film and other aspects of pop culture. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
Updated @ 9:34 a.m. on 11/13/17 to correct a typographical error.