Waxahatchee makes us feel — a lot — on final night of Levitation Fest

You can’t call it a disconnect. But it was certainly an odd juxtaposition to watch couples embraced and swaying back and forth in reverie Sunday night at Mohawk while Waxahatchee front woman Katie Crutchfield spent a good chunk of her hour on stage reliving the tales of romance crashed on the rocks that fueled her latest album, “Out In The Storm.”

Waxahatchee. Photo contributed by Michael Rubenstein

It says a lot about the power of Crutchfield as both a singer and live performer that she’s able to connect with her audience and stir their own emotions so deeply. And it helps that she seems to have put some emotional distance – or maybe just time – between herself and the parties on the other end of her “What went wrong?” lyrics. Her songs aren’t open wounds so much as scars that provide character and memories of things best left in the past.

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Sunday’s concert – the band’s last of a tour with Hurray for the Riff Raff – came on the final night of this year’s reconfigured Levitation Fest, which put a few dozen shows in clubs all over downtown over four days.

With the festival’s expanded scope in recent years after its start roughly a decade ago as Austin Psych Fest, hosting distinct shows in different venues made it possible for a night of female-fronted pop-rock bands to seem of a piece with other Levitation attractions like industrial legends Ministry or Austin’s Black Angels.

Starting the night alone on stage with her acoustic guitar, it didn’t take long for Crutchfield’s versatile and arresting vocals to take the spotlight. Whether in a solo and sparse setting or cutting through the swirl of melodies provided by her bandmates for the majority of the show, the singer has one of the most distinct and impressive vocal instruments in music right now and she puts it to maximum use.

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New songs like “Recite Remorse” and “Sparks Fly” seemed to shine the best – Waxahatchee’s latest 2017 is its most sturdily produced, feeling at times like the best possible marriage of Neil Young songwriting heft with Sheryl Crow’s pop ear – but there wasn’t a duff note on the evening.

Over the course of 60 minutes the band showed a strong, fluid control of the material and framed Crutchfield as a performer who should be regarded as among the best of her peers. And it didn’t hurt that she closed the night as she began; solo and acoustic, with a kinda raw run through “Fade” giving the lovebirds in the crowd one more chance to hold tight, to their partners and the moment they were sharing.

Ty Segall, Parquet Courts play it loud and loose as Levitation opens

Over the past 12 months while outdoor clubs along Red River Street have enjoyed a trial period of later weekend noise curfews as a tactic to increase bar business, Austin city staff closely monitored noise levels in surrounding neighborhoods and kept a close eye on any increase in complaints of loud music.

With no statistically significant uptick in noise disturbances to report and economic data showing modest increases in ticket sales and bar tabs – both a plus for Austin musicians – on Thursday the City Council voted to make the later weekend concerts permanent.

In this file photo, Parquet Courts performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in 2013. The band played Thursday as part of Levitation Fest’s opening night. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

In a fun bit of circumstance Thursday also happened to be the day that indie guitar hero Ty Segall wound up on the calendar at Stubb’s and delivered a majestically ear-shredding set so intense and just plain loud it’d be hard to imagine the folks up in Hyde Park didn’t get at least a little rumble and opportunity to head bang, if they were so moved. No word on whether the city’s 311 call center saw a spike on Thursday, but let’s all be grateful the later noise curfews are here to stay.

Wonkiness and wisecracks aside, the Segall/Parquet Courts double bill that was one of the opening volleys of Levitation Fest 2018 was as dynamic and energizing a touring show as you’re likely to have seen in Austin this year.

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After a raucous opening set from local punks A Giant Dog – themselves afforded a spot in front of a sold-out crowd because of the later noise curfew providing an hour more of show time – New York quartet Parquet Courts spent an hour displaying the many hues of post-punk they’ve become adept in since their formation in 2010.

A key to their success is an absolutely enormous bass and bottom end sound in nearly all of their material, making it danceable and somehow more personal than most of the spiky and jagged sounds favored by bands who trace their influences back to Pavement, Modern Lovers and Gang Of Four.

The more aggressive, almost hardcore leanings of the band’s newer material has clearly bled into some of their back catalog as well, with an early, extended run through “Ducking & Dodging” turned up in volume and vocal intensity as a pit of roughly 50 crowd members churned and jostled in front of singer Andrew Savage as he barked out a small epic poem’s worth of lyrics.

With stylistic turns aplenty – a two-song suite featuring an Omnichord synthesizer turned things slow and trancelike near the end – the set was an example of the variety crowds can enjoy with Levitation Fest expanding its scope from its beginnings as Austin Psych Fest.

At various points throughout his 90-minute set, Segall hued a bit closer to straight psychedelic rock, but any languid and trippy moments were soon to be swallowed up by a tornado of violent and noisy guitar. Acclaimed as one of the most talented and adventurous songwriters of recent indie rock vintage, it was at times hard to fathom how Segall makes a coherent, unified sound in songs where layered melodies and Brian Wilson-esque pop hooks lead into a vortex of guitar distortion and feedback.

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That contrast was on constant display Thursday but hearing the pristine beauty of “My Lady’s On Fire” braced against the noise-rock alto sax squawks and guitar shredding of “Can’t Talk To You” a few minutes later was a lesson in how performers can enrapture an audience by being willing to try anything creatively.

By the time Segall and his bandmates edged up to their close at 11 p.m. there wasn’t much sonic territory from the rock music canon that hadn’t been explored. As an indicator of what might be in store for the rest of the festival weekend, the show set an extremely high bar for the rest of the Levitation roster to try to reach.