As I passed miles and miles of cornfields on the way to Indianapolis last Thursday, I silently reflected on my expectations for my first Whitney show. The bar was set high — the self-proclaimed “country soul” group has already achieved tremendous amounts of recognition. After founding the band in 2015, Max Kakacek and Julien Ehrich (former members of Smith Westerns and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, respectively) utilized their prowess for creating dreamy, summerful melodies by turning it into something deeply personal.
Once their first album Light Upon the Lake was released in June 2016, Whitney was flooded with praise from critics, performed numerous sold out shows worldwide, and was even named as one of Sir Elton John’s favorite bands of 2016.
I couldn’t help but feel excited as I made the two hour trek to the heart of Indiana. I’ve been trying to see the wunderkind group for months with no luck — it seemed like this was my only chance to see them before they reach an untouchable amount of success.
The crowd clapped gingerly once the six piece band sauntered onto the stage of the Murat Theatre. It was clear that the majority of the audience was present just to see the main act, The Head and the Heart. Empty seats were dotted throughout the theatre and were gradually filled throughout Whitney’s 45-minute opening set.
The lights dimmed as the opening bassline of "Dave’s Song" rang out in the theatre. The song invokes nostalgia through wistful flourishes of brass and guitar, while still providing hints of sorrow. I felt my heart sink as Ehrich sang, “I know it's hard to give up when I don't want to be saved / Take me in your heart again.” His falsetto carries out the melancholy lyrics in a way that is juxtaposed with sweet, shimmering instrumentals.
During the effortless trumpet interlude in “Polly”, Ehrich slowly stood up, put his arm around bassist Josiah Marshall, and engaged in a slow and passionate kiss. While the gesture has become a concert tradition for the band, the crowd seemed to stir from surprise.
The ten song set was executed similarly to the degree of the album recording, except for a few flutters of improvisation. When the band performed Red Moon, a jazzy two minute instrumental, they intentionally fluctuated the tempo, allowing trumpeter Will Miller to flaunt his pristine tone and articulation.
I was a bit stunned after Whitney played their last song, “No Woman”. I had been so busy dancing and twirling to the idyllic melodies, I didn’t realize just how short their set was.
Yearning for more, I found the bassist Josiah Marshall and keyboardist Malcolm Brown by the merch table afterwards and gushed about how fantastic they were. Both men were gracious and welcoming. Marshall even offered to send me his bass tabs after learning that I was a beginner bass player.
I briefly mentioned that I initially tried to get tickets for their show in Columbus two days later, but it was sold out. Marshall immediately offered to put me on the guest list for the show, which left me stunned.
Two days later, I experienced the same concert (for free!) in Columbus. While the setlist was identical, the band played with such casual conviction, making me feel like I was experiencing it for the first time again.
It was genuinely entertaining to notice the small differences between the two shows, from changes in improvisation to switching up song introductions. At one point, Ehrich received a phone call from an unknown number, stopping his monologue to answer the call on stage. “Hello?” he spoke into the microphone, phone up to ear. After a short pause, he laughed, “They immediately put me on hold!”
Even the kiss was approached differently. After a shorter but still intense make out, Ehrich leaned down to the mic and announced, “That’s my cousin, Josiah.”
While Whitney is a generally new band, they radiate an air of effortlessness that is comparable to seasoned professionals. There’s no doubt that they’re one of indie’s rising stars. Despite their increasing fame, they still maintain a laid-back, nonchalant demeanor. The level of authenticity that they possess is refreshing (and frankly surprising, especially after some of them recognized me and pulled me in for a hug in Columbus). Whitney knows exactly what they want and how they want to be portrayed, ultimately proving that less is more.
No Matter Where We Go
On My Own
Magnet (NRBQ Cover)