While sporting flannels and hoodies, the hip musicians of Whitney transported audiences away from the thick air of the Majestic Theatre. The band had the vibes of a gang of dudes simply jamming around a bonfire on the shore of a sunset-tinted, misty lake. The sold-out crowd swayed and smiled to the indie pop tunes, basking in the hints of outdoorsy late summer nights.
The band followed an energetic opening performance from fellow Chicagoans, NE-HI. The three members bounced and head-banged continuously throughout their set, making all the noise they could and enjoying it, like they were messing around with their instruments in a dingy garage. They prepped the audience well for the lighter ditties of Whitney, who came on with a more mellow flare with “Dave’s Song,” which highlighted the country influence in their music.
Lead vocalist Julien Ehrlich crooned his trademark echoey falsetto while multitasking on the drum. He gave the band its heartbeat, which was felt in the crowd as he hit his drum set at the edge of the stage, a rarity in live shows. His voice was slightly more ragged live — some strains could be sensed more than in the crystal-clear recordings — perhaps because, as Ehrlich confessed later, he “felt like butt.” He also charmed the audience by saying the band “truly loves [Madison],” having been here before, once for WSUM’s Snake on the Lake and again to open for The Head and the Heart last spring.
Ehrlich was joined by his five bandmates, including the other face of the band, lead guitarist Max Kakacek. They played most of the songs off their debut album, Light Upon the Lake, including the jazzy instrumental banger, “Red Moon,” which allowed for the brass waves of trumpet notes to send the audience into a unified jig. The set also included several covers, even slipping into the melodic shoes of Bob Dylan halfway through the show.
The band slowed things down with the title track of their sole album, in which Kakacek’s strumming came to the forefront and flawlessly intertwined with Ehrlich’s breezy long notes. Their rolling notes sounded like the perfect track for driving down an empty road and sticking your hand out of the window to catch the wind. They concluded with two songs “you can dance to,” as Ehrlich said: “The Falls” and “Follow.”
Whitney quickly came back for a fairly long encore, in which they treated show-goers to another cover as well as a new song that Ehrlich said may be on their new album. This track showcased an acoustic guitar and drew out the band’s folk flavor even further. Ehrlich, despite his and his bandmates’ moody demeanor, mingled with the crowd, even handing off a beer to one lucky person. They closed with the song everyone expected to hear, their hit “No Woman.” The drummer’s crazy fast rhythms flowed through the theater, sounding even better than they do in the recorded track.
Although it wasn’t the most exciting show I’ve been to, the simplicity of the performance and casualness of the band allowed for the focus to be on the music, which had the audience moving and singing along for the entirety of the show. Ehrlich parted with a promise to “see [us] next time,” and I can say I will be joining the band to jam like I’m at a campfire again.