By: Emily Gibson
Photos By: Cody Bjornson
It almost seems like no one can figure out exactly what Whitney’s Julien Ehrlich’s voice sounds like – I’ve heard the Chicago native’s vocals described as “angelic,” “a little Kermit-y,” “ethereal.” No one knows exactly what it reminds them of, but they know it reminds them of something.
I think they’re coming at it from the wrong angle – it isn’t Ehrlich’s voice that is familiar, but the feeling of listening to him sing. Nostalgia drips from each track on Whitney’s debut LP Light Upon the Lake, released earlier this year. The songs, a product of both drummer/singer Ehrlich and guitarist Max Kakacek, feel earnest and timeless. So maybe that something that Julien’s voice reminds of isn’t a Muppet or an angel, but memories of broken hearts and old summer days.
So maybe that something that Julien’s voice reminds of isn’t a Muppet or an angel, but memories of broken hearts and old summer days.
When Whitney played Sidewinder on Friday July 22, I was riding the zany and strange high of a busy yet disappointing day. We got there as the opener, Michael Rault, ended (sorry!!), and pushed our way to the front-ish without the forethought to grab a cup of water or beer or anything to ease the pain of a sweaty crowd during a Texas summer.
I remember watching them set up – mostly, I was watching them fit all six members of the band onto the Sidewinder’s modest stage while they sang along to a Portugal: The Man song. With a debut album as chilled out and soulful as Whitney’s, it would be easy to count them as belonging to the cosmos instead of with the rest of us down here on earth. But they would continue to be unassuming for the remainder of the show – Ehrlich let the crowd know he felt stupid wearing shorts, which he claimed were stolen from his brother, who got them from Urban Outfitters. The band wasn’t too cool to jam out, to prove their love for the music that Kakacek and Ehrlich had worked so hard to perfect after leaving their previous acts (Smith Westerns and Unknown Mortal Orchestra).
With a debut album as chilled out and soulful as Whitney’s, it would be easy to count them as belonging to the cosmos instead of with the rest of us down here on earth.
They started their set with my favorite song off Light Upon the Lake, “Dave’s Song,” which I took a liking to immediately because of the guitar part. The song is decidedly doleful, (I know you can’t help me now/ and sometimes people change / I’ve been sick since you left town / We’ve gotta find a way to feel the same), which I thought was an interesting choice for an opener, yet it set the crowd’s mood to match the song’s – thinking hard, but ready to build on that energy, harness it, and dance it out.
The rest of the set saw the entirety of Light Upon the Lake (including the airy title track, which they claim to not play very often) plus two covers, of Bob Dylan and the Everley Brothers. The crowd enthusiastically responded – dancing, singing, crying. I remember looking around at one point and feeling excited about the lack of phones I saw in the air, which I took as a response to the band’s peaceful yet commanding energy. “We have two more and then we’re going to pretend to leave,” Julien said at once point. And after “closing” the set with “Follow,” they stood on the stage and recharged for a few minutes before resuming their positions to play “The Falls,” “Light Upon the Lake,” and then, finally, their most-popular song, “No Woman.”
I remember looking around at one point and feeling excited about the lack of phones I saw in the air, which I took as a response to the band’s peaceful yet commanding energy.
These are six dudes who can play the hell out of their instruments, but to be honest, Whitney is still a little bit awkward. They’re coasting off the almost instant success of their debut album and adjusting to life as the main event – but these moments of awkward stage banter, of slip-ups and wearing their little brother’s shorts, are happening in front of sold out crowds. And it was that fact that made the show so damn endearing – because there wasn’t one moment at that show, just as there wasn’t one moment while listening to Light Upon the Lake, that I didn’t feel was completely genuine.