Whitney, the welcome reunion of the Julien Ehrlich and Max Kakacek, captures aspects of previous work with Unknown Mortal Orchestra (Ehrlich) and Smith Westerns (Ehrlich & Kakacek), but with an artistic transparency driven by Ehrlich’s dulcet vocals and Kakacek’s polished guitar leads.
Returning to Toronto since the release of their debut album, Light Upon the Lake, Whitney was welcomed by a sold-out crowd at Lee’s Palace this past Saturday, following the move from Adelaide Hall, the originally scheduled venue. While their star is still very much on the rise, strong album reviews have won them a loyal following, as evidenced by Saturday.
Supporting act, and friend of the band, Sam Evian, took the stage and immediately captured the attention of the already crowded venue. Alongside eager Whitney fans in the general admission area, Kakacek watched Sam Evian perform tracks from his recently released debut album, Premium, out now on Saddle Creek. Along with three supporting musicians, Sam invited out various backing musicians from Whitney throughout his set for instrumental accompaniment, most notably Will Miller, who provided some welcome brass support.
As Sam Evian wrapped up his performance, Whitney and their crew began setting the stage, moving Ehrlich’s drum kit and gooseneck yielding microphone stand front and centre, with the kick drum sitting at eye level of the audience. After completing the setup, the band retreated briefly as anticipation built throughout the venue. As crowd conversations quickly shifted to cheers, all the built up excitement was released with Kakacek’s opening riff to “Dave’s Song,” the fourth track off their album. The song, which was written about an overweight neighbour of Ehrlich and Kakacek, was originally intended to be a joke. But their performance was nothing of the sort. The percussion and vocal responsibilities of Ehrlich were rhythmically sound and complemented Kakacek’s shining guitar fills quite nicely.
To keep the momentum going, the band performed their nostalgia-inducing debut single, “No Matter Where We Go.” Between the flowery guitar riffs and Ehrlich’s restless energy, it quickly proved a crowd favourite. But they weren’t done yet.
The setlist covered the entirety of Light Upon the Lake as well as two covers, “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You” by Bob Dylan and NRBQ’s fast-paced “Magnet,” the latter loosening the crowd’s stiffness after a little encouragement from Ehrlich. His crowd interaction was gawky, but well received by the energetic and out-spoken crowd.
Following a three-song encore, the band was left with only one song still to play. As the crowd stood in eager anticipation, a gentle build of keyboard, trumpet and guitar began to enter the fore, ushering in the sonically massive, “No Woman.” For the final vocal reprise, Ehrlich turned his microphone to the crowd for an unexpected, room-wide a cappella performance, resulting in beaming response from the crowd, and most significantly the band.