It feels like its been a while since Exit/In saw a sold-out show– Angel Olsen did it earlier this year, but that was on pure power of indie prowess, a recent record release (literally the day of, or at least within days of) and pre-sale magic as Olsen’s tour took advantage of one of the earliest tour season debuts (which isn’t to say that anything should be taken away from such an achievement) – and shows near such a feat (or more specifically, a show 20 tickets away from reaching the house cap) seem fewer and farther between.
But once every blue moon, an act will kick off or come through Nashville with every right (realistically, every act has the “right”) to just about sell out Nashville’s Most Sarcastic Rock Venue, and this past Monday night, Whitney came through and did just that. Kicking off their fall tour in support of their brilliant debut LP, Light Upon the Lake, the road dog darlings of Chicago (and 2016 as a whole) drew a more than enthusiastic (and hip) crowd lush with dad hats and cuffed pants galore. The lineup for the show was the stuff of indie legend, as EZTV and HOOPS brought their distinctive brands of power pop and shoe gaze in support of Whitney’s headline set.
There was plenty of good music to go around, but the belle of the proverbial ball that evening was of course, Whitney. While Whitney’s LUTL is absolutely deserving of all the critical praise and one of the best releases over the past year, the level of adulation brought about by those who came out to the show was wholly unexpected. It was refreshing to see a large group of young people devoid of (most) social pretense when it came to seeing and being seen at Whitney – most everyone was there for the music first, social standing serving as a distant second.
Social impressions aside, it quickly became apparent that Whitney is a band best suited to play midsized clubs such as Exit/In, as the production and sound quality well exceeded that of the band’s excellent Bonnaroo Who Stage set. Perhaps it was the use of vintage mics (observational credit to Graydon) that made frontman/drummer Julien Ehrlich’s percussion tones sound so vibrant in a room that typically ends up sounding like a tin can, or the distinctly grateful (yet tastefully muted) stage persona of the band as a whole.
For a band with as much hoopla and growing veneration, Whitney might have attainted a proclivity for self-elevation, but instead, it seemed like Ehrlich was taking advantage of any down time in the set to recognize anyone and everyone’s excellence – bandmates, HOOPS, EZTV, their first ever US tour manager, their sound guy, the people in the balcony – which made the atmosphere of the show all the more familial. Having barely delved into much of their set, Julien was already talking about the band heading to Santa’s and singing “What’s It Gonna Be” by En Vogue, much to the excitement of the audience members who were of age. The band then dropped to their knees – with the exception of the already seated Julien and keys player Malcolm Brown – as Ehrlich and Brown entered into the quiet coo of “Polly,” with the kneeling members standing up and joining in on the end of the first verse crescendo.
“Polly” was the first of many tracks in which horns man Will Miller began to steal hearts and minds, with a solid trumpet outro that was met with many an admiring cheer as Julien and bassist Josiah Marshall shared a playful kiss. The band then dropped into LUTL’s sole instrumental track, “Red Moon,” which was arguably the tightest rendition of the song to be heard, with strong noodling and playful musical banter amgonst the band, who truly seemed to be enjoying themselves the entirety of their set.
Following “Red Moon,” Julien took yet another moment to give a shout out to the folks in the balcony, “How’s everyone doing up there? You were all I was thinking about that entire song,” and then expressed his initial fear of not being able to sell tickets on a Monday night, before expressing the distinct pleasure he got from hearing EZTV’s “Goodbye Morning.” Then, without much of a segue (not that one was needed), the band jumped into “Golden Days,” as lead guitarist Max (Macmillan) Kakacek managed to utilize some deft pedal work to imitate the pedal steel sounds on the recorded version of the song. The band ran through a couple more tracks off LUTL – “On My Own” and “The Falls” – before announcing that their set had come to an “end,” which was met with a smattering of boos (of whom probably hadn’t realized the band had yet to play “Light Upon the Lake” and “No Woman”), before Julien assured them the band was only going to walk off and come back on.
In keeping with the new age Levon Helm meets Toussaint vibe that Whitney has become known for, the band squeezed a cover of NRBQ’s “Magnet,” which is arguably the best tour cover of 2016 to date. After a handful of thank yous, Ehrlich prefaced the band’s final song with “this is our last song, and its… about a girl;” which was “No Woman” naturally. The song that set things off for Whitney was more than a fitting close for what was ultimately one of the best Exit/In sets of the year.