Concert Review: Whitney in Vancouver at The Cobalt on August 1, 2016
Last night I saw Whitney in Vancouver at the Cobalt. Before I went in, I saw people standing around the entrance of the 105 year old venue. Inside, there was a line up six deep at the bar. The lights were dimmed, the stage was illuminated in red. A revolving disco ball covered the crowded dance floor with illuminated polka dots.
I hoped that Michael Rault, the opener, would blow me away just as Whitney had in the same opening slot in late April. Whitney’s guitarist, Max Kakacek, walked by me and went behind the bar in to the green room. He passed again and headed towards the merch table. It was cool to see the songwriter, half the reason why the sold out crowd had gathered early, move through the venue like any body else in the crowd. He even had to pay for his own drink.
Rault, Edmonton born and Toronto based, began with a false start. After playing a single note he decided to change guitars and delay the set. The house DJ reacted quickly and played background music during the pause. Round two started better, Michael’s back up guitar worked just fine. The band featured two moustaches and two beards. The moustaches, Michael and Matt, played lead and rhythm guitar. The beards, on drums and bass held it down with a simple grooves.
I kept getting pushed back as time went on. I had never seen the Cobalt so busy, and the main attraction hadn’t even taken the stage yet. Malcolm from Whitney joined the band on stage to play the keys for the last couple songs of the set. They ended the set with “Nothing Means Nothing”. It brought with it a loud but short round of applause. The packed venue was ready for Whitney.
The band’s frontmen, Julien and Max, walked by the bar towards the stage. This time Julian Ehlrich, the band’s lead singer, was wearing glasses. Maybe he couldn’t believe his eyes – in a few short months they went from a little known opener to the headliner of a sold out show. Julian’s bass drum had the graphic from Whitney’s debut album, Light Upon The Lake on it. Behind his kit, Julian sat centre stage in a white tee.
The thing that separates Whitney from most bands their size in fame is their size in numbers. Most bands don’t roll through your city six deep. The band barely fit on the cramped Cobalt stage. “How’s everyone doing?” asked Julian “Thanks for making this a sold out show. This song is called Dave’s Song.” It started with only Ehlrick and Kackacek, vocals and guitar. The rest of the band joined in. The crowd went wild, some sang along.
“Monday night,” said Ehlrich, “I took two showers in 24 hours.” A couple guys started a personal hygiene chant. “No Matter Where You Go” followed and hips started shaking. Applause spread through the venue. Julian liked to talk between songs, “The Biltmore was the first place I ever drank legally,” he said. Due to the strength of the album, the band was able to play “Golden Days” third. During the chorus, the signature horns and “na-na-na”s provided the perfect soundtrack to a hot summer night.
The next song started with keys and vocals before blasting in to an epic wall of sound. What a difference a solid-ass album makes. Last the Cobalt crowd recognized good music when they heard it. The night was full of sing alongs and mid song cheers. During a pause, everybody screamed at the top of their lungs. “Polly” ended with an extended horn solo.
Michael Rault joined the guys for a guest solo over the album’s instrumental interlude, “Red Moon”. Whitney played it faster live than they did on the album. The tempo continued to gain momentum as various band members played solos. The trumpeter and guitarist kicked it off with two consecutive mind-melting performances. Rault went third, scrunching his face as he played. The song turned in to a slow groove. The crowd made noise at any inkling of a song ending but the band wasn’t done.
Whitney’s less known members include Will Miller on trumpet, Josiah Marshall on bass, Tracy Chouteau on guitar, and Malcolm Brown on keys. Julian shouted out Charles for doing an awesome job with the sound. Whitney has five stops left on the tour, all sold out shows. “It really feels good,” said Ehlrich, “We’re really grateful.”
A cover of “Tonight I’ll Be Staying With You” by Bob Dylan was the only song they played that wasn’t on the album. It was also the only song people didn’t sing along too. The trumpet didn’t take me by surprise the same way it did the first time I saw the band. That’s not to say it was any worse, I was just used to it from my many album spins. This time Max’s guitar stood out to me.
“This is a good time to announce we don’t have a place to stay.” said Julian Ehlrich. The set ended with “Follow.” An encore was assumed, the band didn’t even leave the stage. They did however take a 30 second water break to drink some hard liquor.
Whitney started the encore with the album’s title track, “Light Upon The Lake”, which sometimes “sounds bad” according to the lead singer. It sounded just fine to everybody else in attendance. It started the same way the set did. Max playing guitar and Julian singing, no more. The song had no drums for most of it. That allowed Ehlrich and the rest of us to focus on his vocals. The audience stood in awe.
The middle song of the encore was “The Falls”, a song about partying too hard. The audience cheers didn’t let up after it was over. “I feel like drake is on stage behind me.” said Julian. The crowd barely let him speak. A piano riff and horns signalled the start of “No Woman”. Phones raised to capture the single. The band took a 30 second pause. Cheers filled the Cobalt. The song ending had the people shaking and grooving. “I left drinking on the city train,” sang Ehlrich. He then let the crowd sing the last five words: “To spend some time on the road.” Julian thanked us, put up a couple peace signs and walked off the stage.
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