CHAI stuns and Whitney steals the show
Everyone sat up in anticipation as the opening group CHAI walked on stage of the Corona Theatre on Feb. 13. Four Japanese musicians with elaborate pigtails and matching pink outfits marched out to cheers from the audience as electronic music blared. CHAI burst into their set with high energy and choreographed dance moves. Their incredibly endearing stage banter and antics quickly won over the crowd. Lead singer Mana endeared herself even further by engaging the crowd in a monologue about body complexes and learning to accept yourself.
After a short while, Chicago-based folk supergroup Whitney took to the stage as their intricate lighting set-up gleamed and “I Couldn’t Say It To Your Face” by disco-cellist Arthur Russell played. They assumed their positions and began their strong set with “Polly” from their first LP, Light Upon the Lake. Led by ex-members of the Smith Westerns and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Whitney’s soul-tinged folk-rock is the listening equivalent to a walk through a park on a sunny day. Their first album propelled them to the top of festival headlines and their second and most recent record, Forever Turned Around, solidified them as a top-tier indie act.
Though the songs are written by singer/drummer Julien Ehrlich and guitarist Max Kakacek, the live set consists of seven members, some swapping instruments to suit the needs of the song. Forever Turned Around is a slightly more melancholic album compared to their first, and that is not a criticism. Their songs contain the same signature gorgeous melodies and arrangements that have earned Whitney comparisons to Bon Iver and The Band. With fewer upbeat tracks, their sophomore effort exhibits growth and maturity in their songwriting and arrangements.
This growth is apparent in their new live set. Moving up from small, packed venues to large, packed theaters, Whitney has surpassed their status as indie darlings to bonafide indie rock stars. Ehrlich’s arms flew around the drum kit as he sang sweet and sorrowful lyrics—the audience sang along while Kakacek’s George Harrison-esque guitar licks added to the beautiful swell of the band’s sound.
Towards the end of the set, Ehrlich came clean and stated that “it’s 2020, we need be more upfront with each other” as he informed the audience of the brief break the band would take instead of the classic game of disappearing off stage only to reappear to the stomping and clapping of the audience. Whitney’s set was heavy on songs from their first album, but the audience’s favourite was “Giving Up” from the band’s most recent one.
Before their last song, a cover of Dolly Parton’s “Gonna Hurry (As Slow As I Can)”, Ehrlich placed his hand over his heart and thanked the audience for a particularly emotional evening. The audience returned the sentiment with a standing ovation, ensuring that Whitney felt the love.