Essential: Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud review

by Sage Shemroske

Maybe I wasn’t prepared for this, but live music is for lovers…

I’ve always maintained that all great music fits into one of four categories: crying, driving, fucking, and cleaning. Waxahatchee’s Saint Cloud fits three of the four vibes. So when the album finally came out, I cleaned the house to it. Not to rub it in, but in the beginning of quarantine, I’d meticulously and near manically clean my apartment. Take every book out of the bookshelf and wipe it down. Dust the windowsills. That kind of clean. I would sit on that freshly vacuumed carpet inhaling incense and dust bunnies. The cleaning and, subsequently, the alone time were ritualistic. Near spiritual. Cut to a year and a half later and live music is finally back (with a mask and vaccination card required at the door). Music no longer just exists in my living room or on Instagram live (which is also kind of my living room.) There is something tangible about this. 

I am that person who shows up to shows alone and looks at my phone blankly – sweating until the opener steps on stage. The First Avenue main room in Minneapolis is just as crowded as ever: indie kids and Pitchfork dads all bathed in the standard purple lighting. My feet start to hurt about fifteen minutes into waiting and I feel approximately 75 years old. Have I always ached this much at shows? Have I always gotten this sweaty? A small part of me pushes back and wishes maybe we could do this from my couch after all. 

The projector that shields the stage plays a snarky homemade PSA about handwashing in the selfie bathroom in lieu of a reel of which bands are coming to town soon. I get a text from my significant other, who is working the venue instead of seeing the show with me, saying they were at least able to catch the sound check and that it was ‘beautiful’. This is about as close as we get to sharing a moment. In general, this is not a dramatic departure from how I previously showed up to live music. I revel in independence. There is a freedom in experiencing music alone because the music belongs only to you. But, suddenly, a middle aged couple, arms around waists, sidles in front of me and something shifts. Outside of partially obscuring my view, they are reminding me of something I forgot I missed.

COVID has made me envious; this first show back, since the pandemic, has shoved love in my face and I was not prepared. I text my best friend a video of Misery Over Dispute – one of our favorite Waxahatchee songs. And this is my way of saying ‘I love you.’ ‘I won’t end up anywhere good without you,’ croons Crutchfield during Lilacs, and I think of how they used to be the only other person I ever wanted to see shows with. But I have ended up somewhere good all by myself – somewhere good on my own terms. 

I think back to my new relationship, the one that started blooming in spring, just like Saint Cloud. Waxahatchee goes into Can’t Do Much, and I notice the couple in front of me sway gently as she sings, ‘I want you all the time.’ In a crowd of people, I only think of my significant other by my side. It is a poem of sorts to tell someone you wish they were here. It is a type of love to share what you hold closest. I realise my desire for company, for affection, and I’m both embarrassed and relieved. The new live music has teased a vulnerability out of me that I didn’t know existed and I am beginning to think that’s ok. By the end of the set, I am loosely dancing to Fire, remembering when I first heard those opening notes in my living room. I have never once been too cool for anything, but I am certainly not too cool to sway by myself, eyes closed, drinking in the sound and the warmth and yearning.

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