It was all about the songs as Whitney reflected their seven year journey at the O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire
When Chicago band Whitney arrived in 2016, it was all guns blazing. On stage, these twee guitar melodies and earnest falsettos became more than just lovely and wholesome; pints of red wine, inter-band snogging and (just about) PG debauchery gave the whole thing an edge. It was a lot of fun, but obviously not sustainable.
Their 2017 sophomore Forever Turned Around saw the band return home to The Windy City to rest and recalibrate – reaching the end of their tether from relentless touring — and make an emotionally layered record with all the closed-eyes feels. But the band’s show at Shepherd’s Bush Empire last night showed, above all, how far Julian Ehrlich, Max Kakacek and the rest of Whitney have come from their early cocksure and rough-around-the-edges charm.
It’s evident from the start, as they kick into the knee-slapping Americana anthem ‘No Matter Where We Go’; Ehrlich still sings from his drum kit, but he plays with the grace and subtlety of a keyboardist, giving him extra grasp on his trademark falsetto. An extra drummer behind him takes some of the heavier oomph, but you can see it on his face: tonight, Whitney mean business.
Kakacek is reliably calm as he noodles through the likes of ‘Dave’s Song’, ‘The Falls’ and new (old) single ‘For A While’, which reflects the years that it’s been a part of the band’s history in how neatly it bottles their sound. The rest of the band is sensational, not least trumpeter Will Miller, whose powdery and smoothly padded notes hung in the air above ‘Friend of Mine’ or ‘Used To Be Lonely’ like the dusty, indigo beams of light behind him.
Some may have missed the raucous stage presence of old, but songs from 2022’s SPARK added a bit of off-kilter spice; except, that is, for an encore rendition of ‘TWIRL’, which is even more of an emotional release than the anticipated closer ‘No Woman’.
Whatever the change — maturity, tact, perspective — Whitney’s songs have become the star of the show, and as this London show reminded us, these songs really are worth the care they’re giving them.