In the packed out Art School, you’d never know it was Guy Fawkes night. Whitney’s fans were happy to miss the fireworks, buying up tickets so fast they got the gig bumped from the CCA to the bigger venue along the road and waiting excitedly for the gig to begin with a sort of insular glee, totally oblivious to anything going on beyond the walls of the Scott Street venue. And then Julien Ehrlich emerges with the band in tow and a look that says he’d really love to drag someone out into the cold November night, chuck them onto the nearest bonfire and watch them burn.
It turns out that guy is the sound guy and his sin is having lost the band’s setup sheet, meaning both that the hours they spent preparing earlier in the day had been wasted and that they would have to spend the next ten minutes sound checking each instrument individually in front of a full house. Ehrlich is pissed enough about it to throw a one-finger salute and a string of caustic comments towards the back of the room at various moments in the show and even once things finally get going it’s kind of like when you’re a kid and your parents fight at the dinner table and then go back to acting like everything’s all good – sure, you’re all smiling now but the tension in the air isn’t clearing anytime soon.
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Fortunately the crowd takes everything in stride, cheering harder at each setback and defiantly rejecting the idea that this gig isn’t going to be awesome. And it works. The technical problems are soon a distant memory and Whitney’s upbeat indie sounds quickly have everyone swaying happily through a selection of songs from their latest album ‘Light Upon the Lake’ as well as a couple of excellent covers, including Bob Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here with You”. Instrumentally the six piece band are as tight as can be, breaking off from their studio sound to play about with songs on the fly, drawing out sections and throwing in extended pauses to let the crowd’s anticipation build before hammering in to a chorus. They make it feel like they’re almost creating each song from moment to moment in response to the audience, a talent that can make the difference between a great band and a great live band.
The song which opens the album and closes the set is called ‘No Woman’ and is about, in Ehrlich’s own deadpan description, ‘Having a girlfriend. And then not having one anymore.’ Though it’s essentially a break-up song, it’s a hazy, happy track punctuated with dancing guitar riffs and triumphant horns, a sun-dappled celebration of the lost period after a relationship ends where you’re completely in-between everything, past and future, happy and sad. Commitment to drawing joy out of imperfection is deep in the fabric of that track and the album as a whole – a post-gig tweet confirmed that the technical issues continued to bug them even after they had cleared the stage but they rose radiantly above them to deliver a shining performance.
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