Arts & CultureMusic

Indie band Whitney remains steady in the face of audience shenanigans

Last night, Smith Westerns-alumni-band-turned-indie-rock-darlings Whitney played WOW Hall to a rambunctious crowd. Though based in Chicago, vocalist/drummer Julien Ehrlich and bassist Josiah Marshall are both Portland natives. Ehrlich said he has wanted to play WOW Hall since he was a senior in high school who used to come to Eugene to “get fucked up.”

For a band with such a short discography — its debut album, “Light Upon the Lake,” clocks in below 30 minutes — Whitney has enticed a slew of people with its indie-folk meets Chicago-soul sound. “Light Upon the Lake” is a breakup album made for easy listening. It’s perfect for college students walking between classes and sunny days (or not) on a green lawn.

Whitney’s lead vocalist Julien Ehrlich gives a thumbs up to the crowd during the band’s performance at the WOW Hall on Thursday April 13, 2017, in Eugene, Ore. (Aaron Nelson/Emerald)

While the album freely glides between what seem to be simple tracks, the band takes on a spunkier sound in concert. Will Miller’s trumpet lick tied together Max Kakecek’s spiraling guitar with Ehrlich’s falsetto. The band’s sound did not falter under the scrutiny of a drunk super-fan wearing a white Whitney t-shirt with the band’s signature rose emblem, yelling “You fucked!” every few minutes. In fact, the band has honed in on a specific presence: chill, but steady. Not even the drunkest concert-yellers could throw off these guys.

What Whitney is doing isn’t necessarily new, but the band’s sound is full-fledged for a group that’s only been together since 2015. For much of the concert, the band persevered through an obnoxious crowd’s bad concert etiquette, but it proves that the members are veterans at the game.

The band touched on all the hits from “Light Upon the Lake” while also throwing in some covers and a new song or two. After opening with a hauntingly fresh rendition of Dolly Parton’s “Gonna Hurry (Just as Slow as I Can),” the band transitioned into the trickling “Dave’s Song.” The crowd sang along to the lines “I know it’s hard to give up and I don’t want to be saved” in a manner that makes catharsis seem easy. Kakacek’s guitar stood out on the tracks “No Matter Where We Go” and “Light Upon the Lake,” which both took a warmer sound live than the album versions.

Ehrlich’s voice projected throughout the hall during every song. His falsetto is a little scrappier than in studio, but it also feels more authentic in person. Drumming and singing at the same time is no easy feat. With his drum set at center stage, Ehrlich, in overalls and a gray sweater, led the pack like a true leader

Trumpet Player Will Miller raises his instrument toward the crowd as his name is announced while Whitney plays the WOW Hall on Thursday April 13, 2017. (Aaron Nelson/Emerald)

As the night wound down, Ehrlich introduced the rest of the band over a talking, relatively unresponsive audience: Max Kakacek, guitar; Josiah Marshall, bass; Will Miller, trumpet; Malcolm Brown, piano; little brother, merch. He thanked the opener, Julie Byrne, whose rich voice and Laura Marling-esque sound make her deserving of future headlining gigs. Most of the audience missed out on moments like these because of its chattiness and disregard for anything but well-known songs like “No Woman” and “Golden Days.”

Whitney deserved so much more than what the crowd gave last night. Yes, it was a Thursday night in a college town where the members admittedly used to get “fucked up” in. But still, when the band returned for its encore, something was missing and it wasn’t Whitney’s fault. Whitney gave its all to an audience that will largely have forgotten the performance by dawn. The album’s called “Light Upon the Lake” and not “Lit Upon the Lake” for a reason, Eugene.

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Sararosa Davies

Sararosa Davies

Sararosa Davies is the senior A&C editor at the Emerald. A former editor at the youth-run music blog Garage Music News, her written work has been featured in City Pages in Minneapolis, Eugene Weekly and Sirius XM's music blog. She's one of many Minnesotan transplants in Oregon.

Send her tips and questions at [email protected] or check out her work at