In front of a sold-out crowd Sept. 27, the Chicago-native band Whitney walked out onto the Union Transfer stage to a raucous applause, only to immediately have it followed up by joyous laughter. Why? Because they were all wearing three-piece suits and grinning like they had just pulled off some great prank.
The indie-soft-rock community had been anxiously waiting for a follow-up to their 2016 debut “Light Upon the Lake.” After sharing three standout singles over the summer, Whitney dropped their sophomore album “Forever Turned Around” August 30. They quickly began touring, and Philadelphia’s stop came just a day after their show in Pittsburgh.
The band Hand Habits — which comprises solely Meg Duffy — opened for Whitney, playing for a good 40 minutes and providing an intimate and heartfelt sound. After Duffy and her accompanying musicians finished, there wasn’t much talking right away. The buzz was muted by Duffy’s trance-like voice, but as the time for Whitney drew nearer, the crowd energy ratcheted with each passing song being played over the speakers.
The excitement in Union Transfer was palpable, as this was the second time Whitney was performing at Union Transfer and the second show ever that they were wearing suits. Lead singer and drummer Julian Ehrlich even admitted ” [They] had an extra long soundcheck today because this is one of our favorite venues in the U.S.”
To make the show even more special, Whitney had strings players. As Ehrlich was introducing them, he explained “We only have strings at like five percent of our shows.”
Getting the rare combination of Whitney in suits, with strings, and playing at one of their favorite venues seems like hitting a concert jackpot. It would only be fitting that the concert itself was also on cloud nine, right? Well, Whitney made sure that it would be.
The difference in the sound, tempo and energy of Whitney from their first tour to this tour was immediately noticeable. Each band member was more confident and experienced, and the crowd was borderline rapturous.
While the pit of Union Transfer was packed with people, it wasn’t too hot. Every aspect of the show seemed to be in a delicate balance, from the harmonious vocals of Ehrlich to the melancholic lyrics of Whitney’s songs to the stunning yet downright soothing light display in the background.
The energy of the show fluctuated based on the song, which was conducted by Whitney quite perfectly. The first five songs flew by in one fell swoop before any introductions, but it was done with such musical fervor that no one seemed to mind.
Then the tone shifted down a notch, with Meg Duffy coming back to play guitar next to Whitney’s Max Kakacek on their instrumental track “Rhododendron.” The song ultimately turned into a jam session and talent show at the end, with each instrumentalist showing off their skills for the crowd.
That was followed with the final and title track of this year’s record “Forever Turned Around,” before the mood was flipped back to upbeat energy with the band’s standout hit “Golden Days.”
Ending the first part of the set with “Friend of Mine,” Whitney drove home the feelings they evoke best: late summer, the end of relationships and friendships and falling in a place that seems to not be where you thought you’d be. As the chorus of “Friend of Mine” so longingly goes, “You say you’re still a friend of mine, now you’re driftin’ away, like a cloud hangin’ over the pines.”
Whitney perfectly mixed up their set, playing nine out of 10 songs from “Light Upon the Lake” and eight out of 10 songs from “Forever Turned Around.” The main part of the show was 14 songs long, followed by — as Ehrlich put it — “a minute break before we come back and play more music.”
After a minute or so, the lights came back on. Each member of Whitney walked back on stage with a pint can of Miller Lite in their hands and big grins on their faces, and they got back to work.
To open their four-song encore, Whitney played one of their summer singles “Used to be Lonely,” before holding true on their promise of a cover song, playing Allen Toussaint’s “Southern Nights.” Whitney had previously covered Toussaint’s song back in 2017, releasing it on YouTube before putting it in a demos album on Spotify. The choice to play the song garnered a hearty roar from the crowd, especially from the alcohol-permitted sections.
Whitney’s last two were the show-stoppers from their first tour in “No Woman,” and then “Valleys (My Love)” to close out the show and one more time further the point of fading away from people. “Valleys (My Love)” fades away at the end of the song, which made for an all but perfect way to fade out into the night.
Upon leaving the show, almost everyone felt the sting of loss after the artists left the stage and the pure happiness of the beautiful music that had been played.