In the aftermath of the Manchester Arena attack, Now Wave dedicated their Sunday Session to the victims' families. We sent Andrew Williams down to witness the emotional event.
Last updated: 13th Jun 2017
Image: Whitney (Credit Amanda Leigh Smith Photography)
On Sunday 4thJune,the planet watched the Manchester One Love benefit concert as stars from the world of pop, and Liam Gallagher in his anorak, paid tribute to the 22 lost lives from the Arena attack just two weeks earlier.
Simultaneously, at The Ritz, there was another homage taking place as Mancunian anthems ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ and ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ hit the PA system, instigating an arm-in-arm singalong which signalled the end of the day-long Now Wave Sunday Session.
It was fitting, as was promoter Now Wave’s commitment to donating 100% of every ticket sale made after the date of the attack to the victims’ families.
The atmosphere in the air was different. It was reflective. Headliners Whitney made a spoken tribute during their show, to a cause never far from the mind. The Chicago-based band’s material is frustratingly scarce. They topped the bill, playing a unifying hour-long set. Surefootedly stretching out their half-hour-long debut album Light Upon The Lake with gorgeous, invigorating instrumentals (trumpets included) and a cover of Lion’s ‘You’ve Got a Woman’.
Sweet yet sorrowful vocals from frontman-drummer Julien Ehrlich translate wonderfully from the record. While the six-piece band, with precision and jazz-band-like musicianship, led by Max Kakacek, are as tight as you’d expect from a group that’s been on tour forever.
Signed to label Secretly Canadian; Whitney is an indie ‘supergroup’ of sorts. Ehrlich was the percussionist in Unknown Mortal Orchestra before he left to join Smith Westerns, where Kakacek was already the guitarist.
That’s when the songwriting duo, whose melancholy music was born out of visible bromance and chemistry, came together. Now, despite their relative infancy as a band, the duo fashion a blend of country and Americana (self-described as “country soul”) all packaged perfectly into nice three-minute tracks exemplified by endearing single ‘No Woman’.
Whitney's songs are equal parts happy, equal parts sad. Former Coral guitarist Bill Ryder-Jones, playing a solo set just before them, is more introspective. Without a backing band, tracks like ‘Two to Birkenhead’ lacked depth and a crescendo of emotion, something the 2015 record West Kirby County Primary is awash with. Still, he joked, honestly, saying that “It didn’t quite work”.
Only catching the last two acts was an unavoidable shame, yet Whitney’s performance, soulful and giddy, gave real depth to their enchanting music. It’s not twee indie (which was my opinion before Sunday). There’s proper musical pedigree to be found during their live shows.
They’re well worth the hype, though. Not least for genuinely charming a room and cooly dissipating all prior expectations. “I forgot how good Manchester crowds are,” Ehrlich cosied up to the crowd, who, already snug and smug to catch the band on top form, didn’t need the compliment but appreciated the gesture in an emotional time.
In the spirit of Now Wave’s line-ups, you’ll most likely see one of the acts, probably the headliner, on bigger line-ups and in larger venues before too long. With sets from Sean Nicholas Savage, Childhood and Tops, who performed in the main room, and Oliver Heim, Froth and The Goon Sax, who played down in the basement, the assortment meant there was something for everyone.
Whitney play Mama Roux's in Birmingham on Wednesday 21st June, you can grab tickets below.