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Whitney has lots to offer at Turner Hall

Photo+Courtesy+of+the+Pabst+Theater+Group
Photo Courtesy of the Pabst Theater Group

Photo Courtesy of the Pabst Theater Group

Photo Courtesy of the Pabst Theater Group

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It feels unfair to levy expectations upon someone solely because they created something remarkable, which is why I don’t think I’d ever want to meet a musician whose music meant something significant to me.

But people do form these conjectures, raising artists above the threshold of person-hood, despite knowing that what makes the art so compelling in the first place is that another human created it. (These are the kinds of expectations that led J.D. Salinger to hermit himself. He wrote a book and suddenly people thought he could help them find God.)

Because I can’t help but have these selfish expectations, and because it would hurt too much to not have these expectations met, there needs to be some kind of separation. Me: human. Artist: apparition.

Enter Whitney, a seven-piece amalgamation of musicians remnant from various disbanded, disavowed or otherwise relinquished indie rock outfits of the past decade.

Milwaukee’s Turner Hall hosted the band for the second time during their “Light Upon the Lake” tour, an album that has kept the tight-knit ensemble on the road for roughly two years, Tuesday, Nov. 28.

The expectations were mounting as Chicago garage-rock openers NE-HI poured onto the stage, putting the full weight and groggy momentum of their bodies into bouncy head-banger after bouncy head-banger, stopping only when the members of Whitney walked into their set to hand the band Smirnoff Ices.

Photo Courtesy of the Pabst Theater Group

Apparently, this wasn’t the first time NE-HI had been iced by Whitney that day.

NE-HI delivered something entirely special in their own right, independent of the Whitney hype. Guitarist Jason Balla was pure energy, convulsing in perfect time with drummer Alex Otake’s ether-drunk, but still precise, rhythmic efficiency. They wrapped to hearty applause, setting the tone for the rest of the night.

Whitney’s honorary eighth man, Frank Frankowski, opened the band’s set with two simple proclamations: Last time he was at Turner Hall it was his birthday, and Dick Cheney made money off the Iraq War.

The euphoria of a live show can sometimes be dampened by a pedestrian front-man. Having musical talent does not necessarily make an engaging lead, and not all recording artists are performers. This is not a concern for Whitney singer/drummer Julien Ehrlich. Endearing to a fault, he charmed the audience with a sharp wit, a brief dance lesson and a plug for the iPhone X.

Ehrlich’s charisma never outshone his bandmates, though, and instead enveloped them. The energy was buoyant and warm, the chemistry palpable.

Photo Courtesy of the Pabst Theater Group

Anyone who has ever described the group as wistful must not have been paying attention to Will Miller’s combustible trumpet or Ben Folds-esque keyboardist Malcolm Brown.

The highest praise of the night though, (as it almost always does) goes without contention to the lead guitar. My guess is that Max Kakacek just picked up a guitar one day in elementary school and instantly knew how to use it. That’s speculation, but it’s hard to imagine there was ever a time his playing was anything less than magnetic.

The musicianship of each individual member is amplified by the others, leaving no one eclipsed by the talent of another. Maybe this comes with experience, or maybe it’s just some kind of inexplicable harmony.

In addition to a good chunk off their first album, Whitney played a Neil Young cover, the Bob Dylan cover recorded on a Spotify Session last year and a new track that will likely make it to the next record.

They were just intimate enough to show the audience that they’re probably cool guys, but not so much that it turned into a Morrissey show.

To my opening point: I’m not saying Whitney is the be-all-end-all of indie rock, or that everything they do shines spotless and pure, but they’ve managed to make something that connects with a lot of people in a powerful way. It’s unfair to ask people to give us more than they have, but Whitney seems to have a lot to offer regardless.

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