Whitney Concert Review

Whitney
July 19th, 2016
The Bottleneck - Lawrence, KS

Whitney
For the most part, new music inspired by country and folk in 2016 is vapid, non-engaging, and downright offensive to nearly anyone who cares what's being shoved into their ears. From the dull local acts playing every family-friendly event in town to the soul-sucking arena bands playing glorified soft rock with a banjo thrown into the mix, the state of these genres is beyond depressing. Late last year (from Chicago of all places) however, emerged Whitney; the country soul heroes we needed so desperately.

While the band that Lawrence witnessed on Tuesday night was made up of six members, Whitney began as a partnership between guitarist Max Kakacek and drummer/vocalist Julian Ehrlich. Many may recognize the pair as members of longtime Chicago indie band Smith Westerns. Whitney was scheduled to open for Unknown Mortal Orchestra at The Bottleneck in May, but were forced to drop the show due to illness. Their debut album came out in June and the band made good on their promise to return.

The Carhartt-clad fellows took the stage to a relatively small crowd, but noted that they didn't expect a crowd this large. Ehrlich -- whose drums were placed very close to the front of the stage -- bantered with some of the audience throughout the show with a subdued and deadpan sense of humor that seemed fitting for a stylish young musician from a big city making quiet music.

Michael Rault
Many have honed in on the group's knack for channeling 20th century artists like Levon Helm and George Harrison, so it was a pleasant surprise to be treated to covers of Bob Dylan and The Everly Brothers -- despite their take on Glen Campbell's "Southern Nights" being left off the setlist. It should be known though that the band did not rely on those covers whatsoever. The warm and charming numbers from the band's new album that drifted through the venue during the 40 minute set showcased the group's impeccable songwriting, knack for beautiful arrangements, and Ehrlich's perfectly delicate falsetto. While not performed in tracklist order, every song from "Light Upon The Lake" was played.

Ehrlich's muted drumming, the twinkling piano, and the carefully-utilized slide guitar helped slow cuts like "Follow" and "Polly" waft over the crowd, before kicking things up with quick toe-tappers like "No Matter Where We Go." The only gripe a fan of the band might have had was that while the trumpet parts were played remarkably well by the one trumpet player in tow, one or two songs including "Dave's Song" that utilize multiple horns were left feeling a tad less triumphant than on the record.

The band closed their set with their most successful single, "No Woman." Any schmuck at a Mumford & Sons or Lumineers gig would have been physically incapable of not clapping along to the song, but the discerning folks at the Whitney show knew when to sit back and let the band do their thing. "Light Upon The Lake" is full of gorgeous breakup songs, coming of age hits, and pop songs dusted with a smooth country allure. Whitney is at the top of their game and are not to be missed.

Canadian singer-songwriter Michael Rault and his band got the call to open the show. Their songs didn't invoke much response from the sparse crowd, but his retro, psych-tinged rock songs proved to be a pleasant introduction for the headliner. One fan shouted "Sorry" at Rault in a Canadian accent for a quick chuckle; innocent Rault has evidently not been in America too long because he replied with a sincere and friendly, "No need to be sorry," as he tuned his guitar.


Full photo gallery: https://www.flickr.com/photos/118613296@N06/albums/72157671230411536/with/27820512763/

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