Friday, Oct. 7 is rapidly approaching and if you have your priorities straight the only thing written on your calendar that day should be “Whitney at the First Unitarian” in all capital letters. These Chicago indie rockers have been one of the hottest bands around since the release of their debut album “Light Upon the Lake” in June. The band initially got traction thanks to the excellent pedigree of its founding members, Julien Ehrlich and Max Kakacek, who were respectively the drummer and guitarist of the indie rock band Smith Westerns. But after their album dropped, the guys let the music do the talking.
“Light Upon the Lake” is one of the best releases of the year, no questions asked. And in an intimate live setting with a six-piece band, Whitney delivers one of the best performances I have ever seen. I was lucky enough to catch them in Oxford, England. Thankfully you don’t have to cross an ocean to see them Oct. 7. A quick stroll across the Schuylkill is all you need, and you’ll be down in one of the coolest venues in town, the basement of the First Unitarian Church.
Let me tell you a bit about the show that Whitney played at the Bullingdon in Oxford Aug. 25 to help you prepare for the magic you’ll be witnessing over on Chestnut Street. Ehrlich will be front and center behind his drum kit. If there is anything cooler than being the drummer and the lead singer at the same damn time, please let me know. His near-falsetto vocal on the record may take some time to get used to, but once you do, you’ll love hearing it in an intimate, club-like setting.
While Ehrlich is busy singing his heart out and playing breakbeats to perfection, Kakacek is playing a sweet Fender Mustang with laser-like precision. His guitar licks are incredible to witness up close, be sure to keep an eye out during “No Matter Where We Go.” Will Miller plays trumpet and also is pretty good on the shaker to boot. With the spectacular instrumental song “Red Moon,” Miller’s horn is right in the middle of the action and it’s great to hear his jazzy stylings as the band riffs throughout the song. The band as a whole is so tight, the lush, grand arrangements on the album are played to perfection live. They are also a cool bunch of dudes. I chatted them up a bit after the show and after getting over the fact that a Philadelphian was in Oxford, they all seemed vaguely excited about the show that was more than a month away.
“Light Upon the Lake” has ten songs but they might not be the only ones you hear Whitney play. They whipped out two covers at the Bully in Oxford. “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” by Bob Dylan was apt for the occasion as Ehrlich remarked that the band had no place to stay after the show since the hotels were all out of the band’s price range. Then there was this real earworm of a song, “Magnet” by NRBQ. Aug. 27 was the first night they played the song and it has people jiving and dancing like it was 1972. Who knows if it’s still in the band’s rotation but if it is, prepare to break out your dancing shoes.
At the end of the day, you can’t afford to miss Whitney at the First Unitarian. I’m no math major, but one of the coolest venues in Philly plus one of the hottest acts touring these days equals one great show. Tickets are still available, plus local dudes Palmas are opening and they are also a good and fun time. If you need something to do on a Friday night, Whitney at the Church is the way to go.