By: Kenneth DuMez and Ross Masloski
I arrived at Great Scott a few minutes past door time, expecting a line out the door, but found out from two guys standing outside smoking that because of the double show, the door time had been pushed back. Trying to be friendly, I joked about how we had all made the same mistake of coming early. “No, we just played our first set. We’re Whitney” explained the bassist Josiah Marshall, without the conceit you would expect of a band whose album, Light Upon the Lake, left Pitchfork drooling. This was my perfect introduction to the show – nonchalant and intimate – just like their performance itself would be.
As fans began to trickle in, hanging by the bar to buy beers for Whitney, Drew Auscherman, frontman of Hoops, began untangling wires on the dark stage, his red Pumas standing out as a nod to their distorted, fuzzy music. The band quickly shouted out, “Let’s get it boys!” before the impossibly catchy riff of “Cool 2” began. They played songs off of all three of their “tapes” – small five song releases full of short, catchy songs. Guitarist Keagan Beresford’s bowl cut bobbed to Drew’s falsetto on “Gemini”. The infectious, shoegaze-y guitar of “4 U” was reminiscent of Mac Demarco or Real Estate. Unfortunately, the band’s performance was shortened due to the double show but, like their songs, it was short, sweet, and left you wanting more.
Whitney opened with “Dave’s Song,” a relatively mellow tune, yet energy filled the crowd. Everyone was swaying and tapping their feet along to the song; by the final note the venue was packed, shoulder to shoulder. The night’s small venue catered to an atmosphere of honesty and intimacy, the lead singer/drummer Julien and the rest of the band members bantered with the audience and answered questions throughout. The chemistry between the band was extremely evident; Julien even made out, mid-song with bass player Josiah during “Polly.” The next song they played was their only instrumental, “Red Moon,” which quickly turned into an all-out jam session with lead guitarist Max Kakacek and horn player Billy Miller tugging back and forth with beautifully flowing, expressive solos.
It was at this point in the show that the exhaustion really started to show. Julien put his hood up, perhaps seeking some reprieve or simply playing off the melancholy nature of their music. Max kept kneeling down to get off of his feet, and took increasingly frequent swigs from his water bottle. It looked at times like every key press, plucking of a guitar string, and swing of the drum stick was an intense labor. Despite the endurance test of a double show, the band pressed ahead and, in order to supplement their fledgling discography, surprised the audience with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You.” It was a perfect fit for the band; You could hardly tell it wasn’t written for or even by them.
After a few more songs, including one of their biggest hits, “Golden Days,” the band paused with a speech from Julien thanking all of the members of the band including their tour manager, voicing what was a potential cry for help, stating that the manager’s job was to “stop the band from dying.” He also explained that lead guitarist Max was very sick and that they wouldn’t be doing any “encore bullshit” but rather just playing straight through.
One of the most powerful moments of the night came during “Light Upon the Lake,” in which every member of the band began the song either sitting or kneeling on the ground and slowly rose as it was time for them to enter, creating a cascading effect as the song went on. They softly added more elements until the entire group was standing, in harmony both physically and sonically. Maybe it was their alcohol consumption or exhaustion, but you could feel the raw emotion in the performance, and even though at times it seemed like they would keel over, they were still able to communicate that pain. It was summed up well in their closing remarks saying that this was “like the 6th quarter of overtime” and they were “depleted.” Fittingly, they ended the night with “No Woman,” the very first song on their album. Even though their energy was clearly waning towards the end – it would be wise for their sake and that of the audience to stick to one show per night – they did not fail to connect with the audience, baring their souls, and sharing their emotional burdens.
Listen to Whitney:
Listen to Hoops: