Bluebird Theatre hosts a pair of well-regarded up-and-coming indie artists.
BY TIM HINELY
I believe Chicago’s newest indie darlings Whitney had played the 3 Kings Tavern here a year or so ago during the UMS festival but I missed ‘em and wondered when they would come back. Well they hit Denver at the end of this tour and played not one but two sold out nights at the Bluebird. I have to admit, I was a bit shocked, I had no idea that they’d gotten that big, especially here in Denver (I don’t think any other tour stop had two consecutive nights at a venue). Good for them.
Opening was wispy folkster Julie Byrne. Byrne is touring on her latest record, Not Even Happiness, which came out at the beginning of the year on the Ba Da Bing label to rave reviews. Byrne is a folkster in the tradition of Joni Mitchell and she has a gorgeous voice and a perfect guitar style. She also had, I believe, a pedal steel player with her (a woman sitting next to her…I was far in the back and couldn’t see very well) and the set was lovely, but Byrne kept shushing the crowd (one of my biggest pet peeves). You’re in a bar (or in this case a theatre with a bar) and people are going to be loud and talking no matter what. Having said that, I’d like to see Byrne sometime again.
Whitney hit the stage at 9:15 PM as a 6 piece, 2 guitarists, bassist, organ player, horn player and the drummer who sings. The core of the band is drummer/vocalist Julian Ehrlich and guitarist Max Kakacek (Ehrlich was in Unknown Mortal Orchestra while Kakacek was in DAGGER favorites Smith Westerns) and their sound is an interesting mix of pop, country rock and folk with some jazzy flavors tossed in as well. Their terrific debut, Light Upon the Lake, came out in the summer of 2016 and they just released a demos version of the same album (that didn’t sound all that different from the regular versions) and according to Julian, the band has been touring for nearly two years.
They nailed all of the songs from said debut and included a few covers. Ehrlich was quite chatty in between songs and even called out some guys in the front for being knuckleheads (not sure what they said or did).
They opened with “Dave’s Song’ and ended with “Follow” and in between played Neil Youngs “On ther Way Home” and Bob Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You.” Live the versions of the songs on the album were a little looser and not quite as pristine sounding (but still clear enough, not sloppy).
For encores they busted out Dolly Parton’s “Gonna Hurry (as slow as I down)” and the fan favorite “No Woman” and called it a night. These guys are on to something and I’m glad I got a seat on the bus for the ride. Where they’ll be this time next year is anyone’s guess as they seem to be constantly evolving. I’m very curious.
Photo of Whitney by Amanda Leigh Smith, via the Whitney Facebook page.