Last month, in-between Coachella weekends, Whitney played a total of five gigs in just six days. Of those five, four were sold out and three of them I somehow managed to shamelessly attend.
From several sold out shows at the Independent in San Francisco, to promposals at the El Rey theatre in Los Angeles, Whitney is a musical vision of fragility and sensitivity, honest and real to the emotions human beings experience.
Whitney’s El Rey show consisted of a 13-track set list, playing their debut album, Light Upon the Lake, in its entirety. The night begun with lead guitarist, Max Kakacek, and lead singer and drummer, Julien Ehrlich, performing Dolly Parton cover “Gonna Hurry (As Slow As I Can).” The intimate cover led into a sense of hopelessness via “Dave’s Song,” the stage now complete at this point with the full band -- all seven of them. The audience appeared calm and entranced by Ehrlich's soothing vocals, sending the song into a crescendo of smooth guitar licks presented by a stoic Kakacek.
To accompany Whitney, special guest Kevin Morby came out to play a solid rendition of jazz instrumental, “Red Moon.” Interestingly enough, their show at the Independent in San Francisco the night before featured Whitney piano player Malcom Brown's uncle, Chris Brown (not the bad one) on keys. Whitney collaborating with different musicians to perform altered variations of Red Moon shows their versatility as not only musicians, but as creative thinkers.
As the only instrumental track on the album, the recording doesn't actually feature any guitar either; Red Moon performed live juxtaposes the recording, offering a different perspective to the song and establishing a personality in the recording versus the live version. Whitney's Red Moon instrumental execution at the El Rey was distinctive and soft, and, if you closed your eyes and listened, sounded like everyone on stage were having a conversation with one another, only through notation rather than words. At times, trumpet player Will Miller would play his bit only for Ehrlich to respond through quick fills and rough snare hits, while Kakacek bantered with a subtle and slight delay with his guitar.
Whitney is the essence of technically skilled instrumentation. There’s a soothing and familiar twang in the way Kakacek played slide guitar, giving the gift of nostalgia; while Ehrlich casts a spell of déjà vu over concert-goers through his falsetto pitched voice.
Whitney’s stage performance was gentle and kind, and at times, funny and candid. Ehrlich, with a warm and welcoming demeanor, kept in touch with the audience, engaging them in-between songs. There was even a point where an 18-year-old boy got on stage to “prompose” to his girlfriend. The band was surprised and remained patient (to put it nicely) with the youths throughout the whole escapade, "Yeah, this is an all ages show," Ehrlich disclaimed.
While fellow audience members were getting restless, the young girl finally said yes; Ehrlich made his transition into "Light Upon the Lake," which he had dedicated to the couple.
The encore, consisting of three songs, concluded with “No Woman.” You know it’s a good end to the night when the entire crowd is singing back to the band. Through a sway of the audience, Ehrlich among all of the sold out El Rey sang softly “to spend some time on the road…” Whitney succeeded in connecting a large group of strangers with great taste in music, making it feel like a home rather than a concert venue.
With music that mirrors nature, vulnerability and love, Whitney is definitely something special, and I'm not just saying that because my name is also Whitney. They are the warmth of a fireplace, a drive through a dimly lit tunnel, and a reminder that it is beautiful to feel and to experience; whether it to be in love or lost in it, grieving or celebrating. Whitney, though music makers, are human beings first and foremost. They put thoughts, feelings and life into their music, and establish a genuine experience when performing live. As story-tellers, they do what many musicians struggle with, and that's remaining sincere to themselves, their music, and their audience. Whitney shows that it is beautiful to be passionate and it is beautiful to be human.
Text by Whitney Levine | Photos by Marly Ludwig
*Disclaimer: The words expressed in photo blog reviews do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Music Connection Magazine.