Waxahatchee / Hurray for the Riff Raff / Bedouine Opera House, Toronto ON, April 19

Waxahatchee / Hurray for the Riff Raff / Bedouine Opera House, Toronto ON, April 19
Photo: Matt Forsythe
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The "We Are All In This Together" backdrop illuminated behind the stage was presumably meant to empower the crowd, or perhaps it was a reference to the united force of the three women songwriters: one solo and two with bands, each touring recent records (Waxahatchee's Out In the Storm, Hurray for the Riff Raff's The Navigator and Bedouine's self-titled debut). It was never explicitly addressed. It could have provided some stronger glue joining these disparate performances together, beyond all being talented women.
 
Bedouine's set was very similar to her recent one opening for José González at the Danforth Music Hall, down to pretty much exactly the same stage banter. "I'm speeding it up one beat," she said by way of intro to "Skyline," admitting, "some of you probably heard that joke at my last show." That didn't take away from her songs, which may have sounded (surprisingly) even nicer at the Opera House, though at the Danforth Music Hall, she was joined for a song by Blood Ceremony's Alia O'Brien on flute. The songs on Azniv Korkejian's debut are deceptively mellow and relaxed, yet that smooth, gentle voice belies what has clearly been a ton of work lyrically and especially with her intricate classical guitar arrangements. Another of Korkejian's recurring stage shticks is to ask the audience to help name her new song; clearly it should be called "Lazy Baby."
 
If Bedouine's set put us to sleep, Hurray for the Riff Raff's was designed to wake us up and get us dancing. Playing songs from The Navigator, singer-songwriter Alynda Segarra made things political right off the bat, saying, "We're American. We come in peace," before talking about the divine feminine energy that lives inside every living thing in her intro to "Nothing's Gonna Change That Girl." The Riff Raff's political rock'n'roll and Segarra's theatrical stage presence (and "R.I.P. The Patriarchy" T-shirt) made me wonder what would happen if Hurray for the Riff Raff joined forces with U.S. Girls, who were celebrating the launch of A Poem Unlimited further west on Queen Street.
 
Hurray for the Riff Raff's set displayed a surprising amount of sonic and lyrical breadth, sometimes sounding a bit like their New Orleans hometown on songs like "Rican Beach," and at other times channelling Patti Smith (on a new Langston Hughes' poem-inspired song called "Kids Will Die") and at others sounding like sweet '50s soul (on another new song possibly called "Just The Way You Are").
 
If the Riff Raff's set was fiercely political, Waxahatchee's was fiercely personal. On her latest album, Out In The Storm, Waxahatchee exorcised the damage Katie Crutchfield felt after a breakup, with music touching on Nirvana and Liz Phair, her brutally vulnerable lyrics somewhat protected by the volume of the washed-out sound she buried them in.
 
Jumping around in a cornflower blue jumpsuit, it was Waxahatchee's night but she and her band were so loud that it was hard to hear her lyrics. Perhaps because of that, the power of their set had to do with the interplay between those epic band workouts and Crutchfield's quieter acoustic moments. On top of songs from Out In The Storm, Crutchfield and band also played a number from 2015's Ivy Tripp and "Swan Dive" from 2013's Cerulean Salt.
 
Waxahatchee is surface grungy, but cleverly supportive and cohesive. At one point, while Crutchfield was tuning, her sister, Allison (doing multidisciplinary duty on keys, guitar and backup vocals) and the lead guitarist traded off interweaving lines in a little between-song transition that offered a hint of how closely the band work together. "Silver" and "Sparks Fly" were highlights from the new album (and "La Loose" from Ivy Tripp) but the crowd ate it up at the end of the night when Crutchfield returned to stage alone for an encore, strumming her slightly out-of-tune guitar while her voice climbed up through the room. "Fade" — the last song on Out In The Storm — also proved to be the right song to end the night.
 

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