27th November 2019
I play Whitney at home all the time, they’re the perfect canvas for lazy summer days and as turgid Glasgow Winter sets in they’re a welcome respite from the dismal weather. My well-worn Light Upon the Lake vinyl sound-tracked a really special time in my life and I was delighted that their sophomore album Forever Turned Around far surpassed their stellar debut. However, as the concert approached, I felt apprehensive. How would their intimate, understated songs translate onto the big stage; how would I feel if those songs didn’t live up to my nostalgia? I was so convinced I would be underwhelmed, I almost didn’t go, I made excuses to myself about looming deadlines and bank balances. I was so nervous of being disappointed that I was ready to pass up a free ticket, to one of my favourite bands.
The support act did nothing to alleviate my worries. Aldous RH, sang karaoke alone, to backing tracks, though he brought a guitar as a prop, even his guitar solos were pre-recorded. I am always a backing track snob, but that can of worms aside, it felt particularly pathetic and inappropriate for an indie artist. Regardless, a live band could not have saved the dragging uninspired material, if it wasn’t for the exaggerated enthusiasm of his 100 or so fans at the front announcing the ending of each song, I would never have known that Aldous wasn’t just whining over the same lethargic lofi-disco loop for 45 minutes. This support was sheer purgatory, despite some sexless Morrisey/Jagger inspired mincing, Aldous RH is a charisma vaccumn, the only personality that came across was conceited self-indulgence. One suspects there are very good reasons Aldous tours solo, he seems to be the only one who realises his importance and it’s doubtful anyone was converted by this performance.
Fortunately, my concerns about Whitney were unfounded. The singer as drummer combination really drives the band, the conversational rhythmic looseness allows the music to ebb and flow. This is not to say the band isn’t tight, they’re all great musicians who never encroach on each other’s musical space. The band moves on its own groove, pushing the momentum of the set, giving the songs a near The Band-esque rootsy funkiness. It’s this energy that carries Whitney through the slower, delicate numbers and keeps the audience’s attention. The band’s songwriters and only permanent members, Julien Ehrlich and Max Kakacek are the stars of the show, Ehrlich’s voice is beautiful live and he exudes a real presence despite being behind the kit and some ropey stage banter, Kakacek looks awkward and robotic in the spotlight but his guitar playing really shines. Oddly, it is mainly the songs from their more subdued new album that work best, the intricate interplay of the band particularly the crack horn section really push the instrumental Rhododendron and Giving Up into a fantastic live experience. However, upbeat fan favourites from their debut; The Falls and Golden Days were less lively, than expected and lacked substance compared to their newer material. The energy never falls to the point of lagging but except for a triumphant No Woman, it never quite reaches the transcendent summit that at times seems frustratingly close. The fantastic version of No Woman was the real peak of the set, especially impressive considering that until this performance, it was probably my least favourite Whitney song. It’s the best loved signature song the band and their fans know the best and it felt the closest Whitney got to a genuine connection with their audience. Whitney’s music feels like it was meant to be played outside with a summer breeze, aided by a starry field backdrop (that my friends agreed looked unfortunately like a motel duvet under the blue light). Whitney somehow managed to capture that atmosphere in the austere concrete of the QMU venue on a freezing winter’s day.
Overall, a promising and highly enjoyable performance that shows Whitney’s growing abilities both as songwriters and musicians. Give them a less twattish support act and this could easily be a five star review (plus they were lovely and signed my album so I can’t really complain).
[Ruaraidh Campbell – he/him]
[Photo credit: Barbora Kruspanova]