Show Review: Whitney At Lee’s Palace

Story and Photos by Gilad Lippa & Jairus Machado

On a surprisingly warm October evening this past Saturday, Chicago-based band Whitney were set to take the main stage at Lee’s Palace. We arrived about halfway through opener Sam Evian Band’s set; however, from what we heard they were an upbeat, enjoyable indie band you couldn’t help but dance to. Besides the music, the set was notable for lead singer Sam Evian’s cheerful asides about Whitney, whom he referred to as a bunch of “cute guys,” and their time touring together as a “cuddle-party.” This inviting and good-natured display of homosocial affection would set the tone for the night to come—at one point, Julien Ehrlich, the lead vocalist, drummer, and frontman of Whitney (and formerly of Unknown Mortal Orchestra) turned around mid-set to make-out with his bassist.

Such affectionate behaviour immediately stood out to us as a far-cry from the band guitarist Max Kakacek had previously belonged too, Smith Westerns. Smith Westerns seemed like a troubled band when we saw them perform at Time Festival in 2014, as we noticed at one point late in their set that bassist Cameron Omori called out to his brother, and lead singer, Cullen, “Let’s get the f*** out of here.” It didn’t come as much of a surprise to hear when they parted ways. It’s hard to detect any such dysfunction, bitterness, or resentment in Whitney. Apart from the lyrics, which are largely concerned with turning a new leaf and starting over, both their music and their general ethos seem to be that of striving to achieve unity, general mental well-being, and, perhaps most importantly, fun.

Lee’s Palace is a considerably small venue, and the dim lighting and relaxed crowd all added to the ambience of this incredibly intimate show. The band was constantly smiling and laughing throughout their set, which was comprised of songs from their excellent debut album Light Upon The Lake, along with a Bob Dylan cover, “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You.” It was impressive how strikingly similar the live songs sounded to their studio counterparts, largely thanks to some slick guitar work from Kakacek as well as dulcet vocals and precise drumming from Ehrlich. Ehrlich, however, did what he could to bring some more élan to these songs, so they weren’t just mere replicas of the studio versions; adding in the occasional “WOO!” before going into a propulsive drum break-down, for instance. On the surface, Whitney’s music could be taken for quaint alt-country, with their shiny, twangy guitars and Ehrlich’s lyrics about going on the road, but it is namely the ensemble of instruments (a keyboard, synth-machine, bass, and horns) that elevates it beyond generic constrictions, giving it both dynamism and a distinct feeling of modernity.

The very last moment of the show was arguably the most beautiful. “No Woman” was the final song of their encore (which Ehrlich so amiably told the crowd would occur and would consist of 3 songs mid-set, something that almost never happens at concerts) and it’s undoubtedly their most popular (one girl relentlessly requested they play it throughout). As they finished the song and the crowd started cheering for another encore the band member all froze. As soon as the shouts for encore ended they suddenly jumped back into the epic instrumental jam near the end of “No Woman,” ending on such an amazing high note and leaving us wanting more, but extremely satisfied and sure that what we had just witnessed were signs that this nascent band had no intention on turning their backs on what they have together.

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Sam Evian

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Whitney

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