Whitney separates itself from the pack through compelling set at Royale
October 9, 2019
When you think of famous Whitneys in music, many attribute the name to the award winning soul artist from Newark, NJ, not the indie soul band band from Chicago. However, if you strolled by the Royale Tuesday night, you would have seen a line of people out the door and forgot for one night that there once was another Whitney in the industry. Many dressed in mom jeans, Doc Martens and jean jackets waited excitedly on Tremont St. for a night filled with soothing instrumentals and unique music.
Shortly after the breakup of Smith Westerns in 2014, drummer Julien Ehrlic and guitarist Max Kakacek decided to form Whitney, where they became an instant sensation in the Chicago-metro area. In 2016, the release of their first single “No Woman” was so successful that it earned itself “airtime” in Starbucks featured playlists that play in every store in the country. Their album “Light Upon the Lake” became so popular that they earned spots in many festival lineups, including Boston Calling.
Since their set at Boston Calling in 2017, where only a fraction of festival goers knew them for “No Woman,” they have been drumming up excitement here on the East Coast slowly since then, graduating from venues like Great Scott and The Sinclair to the “big” stage at The Royale. Their unique sound could be contributed to this success, and without a doubt, their individuality has made them stand out in the indie scene.
“It’s their live performance that makes them different from other indie groups… They bring in more traditional instruments from your typical boy band,” Suffolk senior and Chicago-native Annika Luk said in an interview with The Suffolk Journal. “They rely less on the melody coming from just a guitar but bring in a trumpet and a four piece string section instead.”
Royale, while being the second biggest venue owned under Bowery Boston, with TD Garden being the largest, still has a relatively small stage that Whitney made look even smaller with their 11 person band complete with violins, cellos, pianos, bass guitars, drums and three different types of guitars. They all strolled out casually in matching black suits and dresses, making the crowd feel extremely underdressed.
One would think they were out seeing a professional orchestra, until you saw the shoes they were wearing. Instead of high heels and dress shoes, everyone in the band wore casual, comfy shoes that attributed to their personality. Drummer Max Ehrlic walked out in tan Birkenstocks and white socks, that he took off five songs into the show.
“Whitney’s performances are so dynamic and unique,“ said Luk. “While their sound is beautiful, what I think really propels them is the way they’re able to deliver it in live shows.”
And she’s not wrong. Whitney is unique, for one of many reasons, in that Ehrlic is also the lead singer, and the drums are the focal point of the show. Not many bands do this, mostly because, well, it’s hard. For some drummers, even singing backup is challenging, let alone carrying all of the vocals, but Ehrlic makes it look as if he was born to be center stage slamming on the snare. The guitarist Kakacek played so intently that you could tell the only people in his world at that moment were him and his guitar. Pianist Malcom Brown couldn’t keep himself from jumping out of his seat excitedly with a beaming smile that arguably lit up the stage more than the lights raining down on them. You could tell this was a group of people who genuinely love music, and the crowd was just as in love.
Whitney knows the music mechanics of a great show, but one thing that could have been better would have been better stage visuals. While it is undoubtedly hard to prance around a small stage with 11 people, to provide a more rounded show, artists need to rely on visuals. Their background curtain was their dimly lit album cover, which was to be fair, beautifully painted, but had more room for improvement. It would have been nice to see moving visuals on the curtain as it pertains to certain songs to give fans something more diverse to look at while bobbing and swaying to the instrumentals.
However, while the visuals may not have been up to par, there is no doubt the song choice for the tour was expertly picked to match the peaks and lows every concert has. More than half of the songs they chose were from their more popular album “Light Upon the Lake,” rather than their latest album “Forever Turned Around,” which proved to be a great idea as it engaged the crowd to sing along for a majority of the concert.
They ended the concert with “Valleys (My Love),” their latest single, but not before teaching the entire crowd the chorus and simple arm waves so they could sing and dance along to the song that would conclude their night at the Royale.
Whitney’s new album “Forever Turned Around is out on all streaming platforms, and their music video for Valleys (My Love)” is out on Youtube.