Both with her sister Katie (in PS Eliot and Waxahatchee) and on her own (Swearin'), Allison Crutchfield has made herself a staple of the American indie underground, the kind of artist that sits at the nexus of multiple bands, scenes and styles.
Whether Vagabon, aka Laetitia Tamko, was aware of Crutchfield before embarking on a lengthy tour together is unknown, but the Cameroon-via-New York artist would certainly appreciate her tour mate's pedigree. A self-described "weird girl" who discovered her people in New York's DIY scene, she said little to the crowd, but when she did speak, it was to express sincere gratitude, punctuated with an air of disbelief at the situation in which she has found herself.
Though her set was punctuated by several long bouts of between-song silences — the buzz of their instruments was audible while she and her two band mates tuned up — her actual performance was anything but. Backed by a drummer and bass player, Vagabon's too-short set showed off the many sides of Tamko's musical personality, one that exudes utter confidence. Whether it was playing barn-storming garage rock or singing solo overtop of a sparse electronic beats, her unique, sonorous voice cut through the bar clatter. Then, after just 20 minutes, she was done. Here's hoping she returns on a headlining jaunt.
After Swearin' imploded, few expected a hi-fi solo album from Crutchfield. As if to atone for that decision (she doesn't need to; the record is great) she's assembled a three-piece backing band, the Fizz, who seem put together for the sole purpose of reverse engineering that record. Scuzzy and ramshackle, they opened with album highlight "I Don't Ever Wanna Leave California." Flanked by Casio and Roland keyboards, Crutchfield alternated between two mics.
Animated and visibly in a good mood, she joked about her Smiths T-shirt ("I don't even like them that much") while quickly moving through selections from her album. Yet her set was plagued by sound problems, her vocals and pretty much anything her guitarist played drowned out by bass, drums and keyboard. Making matters worse, either because of technical or human error, drummer Catherine Elicson (pulling double duty with openers Empath) kept botching drum fills, dropping the beat numerous times during the group's short set. Lo-fi is an aesthetic, but there was clearly something wrong as the band's bass player took over from Elicson in anchoring the group.
Nevertheless, Crutchfield and crew played through the problems, finishing with "Dean's Room" and jamming out on the song's coda. Though frustrating from a technical standpoint, Crutchfield's set at least showcased the strength of her songwriting, even in the face of such limitations.