“Is anyone in here in love tonight?” lead singer and drummer Julien Ehrlich asks to the 150 strong Birmingham crowd. He is met with flustered and nervous giggles as a flurry of people raise their hands. Some shy away. Some grab their partner in a moment that is a euphoric haze of love. Some, however, just scream, “yeah, with YOU!” It is in this nostalgic love-orientated vibe that the gig revolves around, and a vibe in which Whitney thrive so well.
However, it wasn’t just love in the romantic sense that the Brummie crowd was celebrating. Having travelled all the way from Chicago to one of Birmingham’s most intimate venues, the crowd were eager to submerge themselves in the silk-lined melodies of the band’s debut album, Light Upon the Lake. The night was thus a celebration of love, intimacy, and Whitney themselves.
Do you ever get the feeling that one bass player isn’t enough? Well, that’s certainly how support act Swampmeat Family Band felt. Being made up of a drummer, guitarist, bassist and a double bass player, the band brought new twists to generic indie sounds. With a racing set that felt like a musical cocktail of The Vaccines, The Black Keys as well as various blues-inspired melodies, their set was as energetic as it was refreshing. With no Twitter page and only 582 likes on Facebook, the little known Birmingham band pleasantly surprised the crowd with an impressive set which got people bobbing their heads more than they would have expected.
Some albums are made to be blared out in front of 100,000 strong festival crowds. Some, however, are made to be played in front of 150 adoring fans. Whitney begin with title track ‘Light Upon the Lake’ (after having told the crowd that they’re mixed up the set list after getting bored of ‘playing the exact same songs in the exact same order 140 plus times’). Julien’s falsetto is sung before us like a gold thread: we expect it to snap at any moment due to its sheer delicacy, but it doesn’t. In what can only be described as a pure angelic expression of wistfulness over Max Kakacek’s whispering guitar, the pair combine in a musical kiss and mingle to create a subtly striking start to the set.
What lies at the core of the band’s set as they walk us through the magical haze of ‘Dave’s Song’ and ‘Polly’ is a sense of authenticity. Their songs are not an attempt to appeal to the masses, but a pure expression of tenderness. Even their cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Tonight I’ll be Staying Here With You’ is given new life by Julien’s distinguished voice. The trumpet solos that float in and out of the set are a defining feature that are perhaps the musical light upon the lake of their sound: the trumpet solo of the concluding song ‘No Woman’ sings out from the stage as a final glorious ray of Chicago sunlight for us all to soak up before the band’s final departure.
What Whitney do best is their ability to convey the hardships of love while still remaining optimistic that their golden days will re-emerge; we can’t help but feel that love and all its complexities are being celebrated, rather than being looked upon in regret. As the gig ends, the crowd leaves with their lives that bit brighter than when they first arrived. They leave, having fallen that bit more in love with the sublime American-tenderness that is Whitney.
Words by Juliette Rowsell