The melancholic folk indie super-group, Whitney, made up of former members of both the Smith Westerns and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, graced Houston with a spectacularly intimate show for the small crowd that gathered to see them at the Bronze Peacock, Saturday night.
Opening for the increasingly popular headliners were the Austin, Texas band, Duncan Fellows. Having never heard of the band prior to seeing them live, I was skeptical of how they could open for one of my favorite bands. However, my skepticism soon gave way, as I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of energy they brought to the small crowd, who by the end of their set, were obviously fans as the band left the stage to huge applause. The band predominantly played songs from their latest release, the full-length Both Sides of the Ceiling, including my new personal favorite, “Kerosene.” The band plays the sort of melodic down-tempo indie that you would hear from bands like A Great Big Pile of Leaves or Pinegrove, however their energy is so much different as evidenced by when the lead guitarist jumped on top of a table to sing what I believe was a Smiths cover. Regardless of their anonymity, this band is amazing live, and they sound just as good on the record, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them hitting the festival circuit in the next couple of years, provided they release another album.
Then came what all hundred-plus people had been waiting for; Julien Ehrlich, Max Kakacek, and crew came to the stage in a very reserved manner. Ehrlich, both the drummer and lead singer for the band, commented that the band nearly cancelled this tour date a few weeks prior due to concerns that the city would still be recovering from the massive amount of damage that Harvey bestowed upon the Bayou City. However, they were here with us in the H as they opened with “Dave’s Song,” from their lone LP, Light Upon the Lake. That album would be the basis of their hour-long set as they played every song from the project, surprisingly including the absolutely gorgeous instrumental track, “Red Moon.” In between songs Ehrlich would constantly talk with the audience, as the crowd was not huge at all, and any comment was easily heard throughout the venue, which led to some extremely funny exchanges between Julien and the crowd. At one point, an audience member asked if he could kiss Julien; not an odd request considering the band’s front man does have the tendency to make out with his fellow band members, the audience member got his wish as the two embraced. Later on in the set, Ehrlich commented that his girlfriend, who has home making mac n’ cheese would be not to pleased to see him kiss the young fan.
The group also played a number of covers including Neil Young’s “On My Way Home,” Bob Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You,” as well as a rendition of Dolly Parton’s “Gonna Hurry (As Slow as I Can).” As the set was winding down, Ehrlich plainly laid out what he called the band’s “syllabus,” explaining that they would play three more songs before leaving the stage, just to come back in 30 seconds to play four more, hopefully with shots in tow; clearly poking fun at the staged encores that have become so common in today’s live music scene. True to his word, after playing “Follow,” the final track on LUTL, the band exited briefly before just Max, the lead guitarist of the band, and Ehrlich re-entered the stage by themselves to cover the aforementioned Dolly Parton song. Then the rest of the band appeared, with shots in tow. The band downed what I can only guess was tequila, based off of Ehrlich’s previous comments to the audience that the blue agave-based spirit was the drummer’s drink of choice. Once the burn from the liquor was gone, the band went into their final set of songs, closing with their most popular tune, “No Woman.” The band then thanked the crowd took a bow, and exited the stage, leaving me extremely excited to see them this upcoming weekend again at the second iteration of this year’s Austin City Limits Music Festival.
It had been a long time since I had been to a show this intimate, and it was a welcomed change of pace from the insanity that is a music festival. I will be interested to see how the band adapts to the larger audience, however I know that I will enjoy their set just as much if not more after seeing them this Saturday. I feel as if I know the band, thanks to the inviting and friendly environment that the Bronze Peacock room provided. Although Houston probably won’t see the likes of Whitney until they release another album “in another year or so,” according to Ehrlich, I highly recommend catching these guys live if you get a chance, they are more than worth the drive.