Concert Review: Wild Nothing and Whitney in Vancouver at Biltmore
Last night I saw Wild Nothing and Whitney in Vancouver at the Biltmore. I say it that way because Whitney’s set is the one I’m going to remember. I first heard them when I was researching concerts in Vancouver for April. I saw the Wild Nothing show listed and listened to Whitney’s second single, “Golden Days.” I rarely search for the opener but for whatever reason I did. I knew they were a must-see band off the strength of that one song.
“Make sure you come early to check out Whitney. One of the most buzzed about bands on the planet right now play at 9:30pm sharp.” That’s what Timbre Concerts posted on the Facebook event a couple hours before the show. I click attending on a lot of events and that’s the highest praise I’ve seen from Timbre.
As instructed, I made sure I got to the show early. Everybody was taking advantage of the generous amounts of seating that the Biltmore offers. Somebody was going for the high score on the fighter jet pinball machine.
A roadie made some final adjustments and people gathered. Six guys who I had seen in the crowd earlier took the stage. It was as if the owner of the Biltmore had rounded them up and said, “Here’s some instruments, play.” Lead singer Julien Elrich, formerly of Smith Westerns and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, sat down at his drums and said, “This is our first show In Canada, kinda crazy.” He was talking about how full the venue was.
“Dave’s Song” starts with falsetto, chunky bass and guitar twangs. Joining soon after, Julien played his drums and the one-man horn section blew in to his trumpet. Whitney has an abstract stage plot: it’s drums in front and band members surrounding in a semi-circle. Elrich looks and sounds like a boy in a young man’s body.
Up next was “Golden Days,” the song that put me on to the band. Will Miller, the one man horn section, seemed to add two or three to what would have been a five piece. He talked about a “nice lady” who had bought a couple band members pho before the show. Along with Elrich, co-writer Max Kakacek on guitar rounds out the core of the band. The other members play a second guitar, a bass, and keys.
“Polly” began with piano and vocals and four men squatting. Half way through, the four men stood up. The song ended with a trumpet solo that got the loudest applause of the night so far. Next was a song of pure instrumentation. Guitar and trumpet traded solos as the tempo sped up and slowed back down. Julien Elrich added an “Ugh!” to end the jam.
The mention of “No Woman,” the bands stand out single, was met with cheers and a loud “Yes.” It’s an ode to travelling through California solo. Whitney has a definitive sound. Guitar and horn take the lead, keys come in, and a simple drum and bass combo keeps it all together. The horn(s) are the real crowd pleaser.
“We took mushrooms last night and fell asleep to Stevie wonder. This is our reggae song,” said Elrich before Whitney’s second last tune. They ended with “Follow.” A testament to their talent, they didn’t play either of their singles last. I have a feeling “Follow” will be the last single before the debut album, Light Upon The Lake, comes out June 3rd.
Between sets, people played more pinball. Others stood in line at the bar to get their drinks refilled. People were still filing in to the venue as the headliners were about to start. Wild Nothing’s stage set up was a traditional one. The band entered to light applause.
The set started with heavy bass, synthesizer and reverb on the vocals. “To Know You” reminded me of a cover of a one hit wonder from the 80s. The song found its footing during the instrumental breakdown. Wild Nothing were the headliners; a loud crowd response assured me of that. “I love you forever,” somebody yelled.
Wild Nothing started the set with a couple songs from their new album, Life Of Pause. During “A Woman’s Wisdom,” piano chords replaced synthesizer sounds. Knowing I had to crowd source a photo, I looked around in search of people with phones held high and saw none.
Early in the set, both the band and the crowd seemed to be holding back. According to lead singer Jack Tatum, it was Wild Nothing’s third time at the Biltmore. You could tell they were comfortable in the small venue, maybe too comfortable. The first time I was at the Biltmore it was only a quarter full. I looked left and saw a couple girls sitting on top of the red booths and peering over the crowd. The concert hall was sold out this time.
Transitions blurred in to each other. Tatum separated songs with a couple words at most. He elected to tune his guitar rather than talk between songs. In a trance for the first half of the set, the crowd followed along in awe.
“Please give it up for Whitney.” People gave it up. “Live In Dreams” had people moving. Whitney was two stepping at the merch table with an old Asian lady. The two girls were down from the top of the booths and shaking to it as well. The band was dancing hard.
There are few things I like seeing more than a crowd of people getting down to good music. By the midpoint of the set, asses were shaking. Claps and cheers were loud. Old tunes were met with better responses. Fans started singing along.
An effect made it sounded like I was listening to the music under water. The guitar stood out on “Summer Holiday.” I don’t know if it was intentional but the show got better as the band warmed up. Clapping along to music, the audience seemed to enjoy every song more than the one before it.
The drummer counted the band in with his drumsticks. “Life Of Pause”, a loud burst of dream pop, was a punch to the gut. A couple fought their way to the front of the stage. The crowd split, for some reason it started started to thin. Wild Nothing’s older material is better for a live show. The familiarity to it equals more crowd involvement. Jack Tatum did little to engage the crowd.
Wild Nothing’s signature synthesizer kept the band together. “This is gonna be our last song, thank you guys so much for coming out,” said Jack. The crowd dwindled. Do people have a curfew on Tuesday nights? The remaining fans snugged together and bounced to the beat.
Those who were left felt the music. “Thank you very much,” said Tatum as he put down his guitar and left the stage. Some called for one more song, some left. The true fans kept chanting until the band answered their call.
The jungle loop of “Reichpop” started; the lead singer shook a tambourine. Wild Nothing played one last song to the happy hardcores. It was if they were weeding out the real fans from the fake fans. I haven’t see so many people leave a good show before. I also haven’t seen an opener as good as Whitney in a long time. They’re a band on their way up.
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