The powerful bond so apparent between guitarist Max Kakacek and singing drummer Julien Ehrlich is what makes Whitney the band it is, with empyrean-voiced Ehrlich – who previously played in Unknown Mortal Orchestra, before moving to Chicago to play with The Smith Westerns – taking the lead, his vocals enmeshed in Kakacek’s liquid Fender Jaguar fretwork. A serene atmosphere was maintained throughout the show, partly down to Ehrlich’s charmingly nonchalant manner, perfectly befitting their warm, country-soul style.
Despite having written most of their debut album, Light Upon The Lake, in the harshest of Chicago winters, back in 2014, there is an undeniably summery feel to Whitney’s music. Ehrlich and Kakacek have a magical way of placing lyrics filled with loss and heartbreak together with aching melodies, creating an overwhelming sense of nostalgia. The songs plunge you deep into a sunny haze, conjuring emotions and memories of personal times and places. The Whitney sound is reassuringly familiar while maintaining a winning individuality – elements of The Band, Pavement and Fleet Foxes are palpable, but the band easily transcend their influences.
There was a buzzing energy in the room and though the show was short – understandable for a band with only a ten-song album to its name – the group seemed keen to impress, performing a couple of covers including a soulful Whitney twist on Bob Dylan’s ‘Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You’. Crowded onto the small Oslo stage, the group bopped around energetically, putting their all into each song and easily winning over the young and enthusiastic crowd. ‘Golden Days’, arguably the album’s key song, was exquisite, its emotionally naked lyrics contrasting with a breezy, almost lighthearted musical tone. Saving the catchy ‘No Woman’ for the encore was also an excuse for all the band members to showcase their talents. The delivery was once again impeccable, the packed crowd clearly seduced.
An after-show, hosted at Madison, below the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch, was a different, more intimate experience – Kakacek and Ehrlich playing acoustic versions of some of their songs before a smaller crowd, which allowed their personalities to manifest more obviously in the music. Ehrlich, apologetic for his supposedly ‘rusty’ guitar skills, offered up his beautiful falsetto once again, complemented by Kakacek’s effortless guitar runs and arpeggios. What is so mesmerising is the ease with which Ehrlich and Kakacek play together, helping one another showcase their prodigious talents.
To fully comprehend the magic of Whitney it is essential to see them live, with the intricate beauty of the songs and their delicate, meticulous performance, contrasting with a charmingly humble stage presence. The buzz around the band is more than understandable and the intimate space of Oslo was the perfect setting for their enchanting sound. Coming back to London in November, Whitney are booked to perform at the much larger KOKO, a clear indication of their inexorable upward curve.