Asheville music lovers not partaking in St. Patrick’s Day festivities — as well as those merely taking a multihour break from the revelry — were treated to rare solo acoustic performances by Mary Lattimore, Kevin Morby and Waxahatchee on Friday, March 17, at the Masonic Temple.
Experimental harpist Lattimore began the show, returning to her hometown a mere six weeks after opening for Parquet Courts at The Grey Eagle. Again keeping her performance short, the Los Angeles resident played an almost entirely different setlist than that of her previous local stop, rendering the few redeployed basic melodies wholly new with fresh layers created with the aid of loops.
Lattimore’s atonal plucking on the harp’s upper register remains challenging and not always pleasant on the ears. But the primitive percussion conceived via knocking on her instrument’s wood body and rubbing vertically on its bass strings added the intriguing feel of falling acorns to her fourth and final song — a sensation that felt especially appropriate considering the stage’s lush forest decor. Such on-the-spot inventiveness bodes well for her forthcoming New Rain Duets show with Mac McCaughan on Wednesday, April 19, at The Mothlight, during which the two will improvise new compositions based on prearranged structures and ideas.
Minus the electronic effects that give his 2016 album Singing Saw a frequent futuristic edge, fellow Los Angeleno Morby has a decidedly Dylan-esque sound in acoustic form. Though his voice is far more on-pitch than that of the recent Nobel Laureate, Morby’s lyrics inspire comparably epic imagery while his existential meditations are all the more augmented in this stripped-down presentation.
The addition of vocals, up-tempo guitar and an occasional harmonica raised the show’s energy level considerably, especially the anthem “I Have Been to the Mountain,” whose playful underlying strumming recalls the theme song to the HBO comedy Flight of the Conchords. A thoroughly engaging performer, Morby also got to show off his technical prowess on guitar with the challenging fingerpicking of “If You Leave and If You Marry.” It was a treat to see in such close proximity. He smoothly transitioned to keys for closing number “Destroyer,” for which he invited Lattimore back to the stage.
The ambient communication between keys and harp proved a fitting pairing and, intentional or not, hinted at the mellow yet heart-wrenching set to come from Katie Crutchfield a.k.a Waxahatchee. Bringing the tempo back down in line with Lattimore’s set, Crutchfield paired her rich, mournful voice with slow guitar strumming, inspiring a noticeable silence from the appreciative audience. She crafted an atmosphere in which her raw reflections on broken relationships cut all the deeper. (At one point, Crutchfield noted that she’d just experienced a moment of hyper self-awareness where her lyrics felt especially depressing, then added, “Here’s another one.”)
The intensely soul-bearing set included three new songs, among them the relatively faster-paced “Sparks Fly.” Considering the frequent use of synthesizers on 2015’s Ivy Tripp, one wonders if Crutchfield will employ a similar approach to these tunes on the forthcoming Waxahatchee album, slated for a late summer/early fall release through Merge Records.