Chicago-based pop-folk band Whitney had hundreds of giddy fans singing along to nearly every word of their songs Wednesday night when they performed a sold-out show at the Majestic Theatre.
NE-HI, also based out of Chicago, opened up the show. From what I could tell from their final song, they took the sensibilities of a garage punk group and presented them with more energy than the crowd was ready for. Their head thrashing and guitar riffs were rife with spastic movements. Meanwhile, the crowd didn’t react with more than subtle head nodding and foot tapping.
When NE-HI’s set concluded, the theater morphed into a free-for-all struggle to hold your ground. With their backs pressed up against each other, fans pushed and pulled like the tides for a semblance of personal space. No one was excluded from the ebb and flow of bodies.
As the clock inched closer to 9:30 p.m., the band members sauntered on stage to begin Whitney’s set. Frontman Julien Ehrlich, along with his drum set, sat front and center on the stage as guitarist Max Kakacek entered. The duo, making up Whitney’s core, were joined by four others to help with the live performance: a trumpeter, bassist, guitarist and pianist. Together, the six guys covered a slew of tracks from their debut Light Upon the Lake.
Channeling old school legends like Bob Dylan, Whitney brought together folk, pop and rock for a romantic fusion of essential Americana — a fusion that, based on the fanaticism in the crowd, was executed perfectly. Not only did every song feature input from the crowd, but every time there was a pause in the set, someone would scream out “Play it again!” or “We love you!”
“We’re burnt out. Can you tell? But we’re still playing, and I think we’re playing well,” Ehrlich said eventually to the sold-out crowd. Immediately after, the band played a stunning rendition of the fan-favorite “Golden Days.”
Regardless of the tempo of the song, the fans were in love. Smiles radiated off the faces of nearly everyone in attendance. Slow jams lead to untroubled swaying while poppy hits lead to fervent, sporadic jumping. At times, it felt unfitting; as Ehrlich said, they were visibly burnt out and lacking in intensity. Perhaps the crowd was responding with incredible energy to compensate, or maybe I was the only one who noticed how tired they seemed. Either way, the Ehrlich’s voice and vicious drumming matched with the absolutely astonishing guitar playing from Kakacek made for a wonderful show that lived up to the expectations of hardcore fans throughout the packed venue.