Music

Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Whitney at Thalia Hall

It may have been a foggy night in Chicago on Thursday, May 10, but, somewhere in Pilsen, a fog was lifted. Psychedelic rock bands Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Whitney broke through the fog that night and cleared the skies for an incredible energy onstage at Thalia Hall (1807 S. Allport St.).

Whitney, who opened for Unknown Mortal Orchestra, took the stage with a youthful vivacity. Hailing from Chicago, Whitney, a band featuring familiar faces Max Kakacek of Smith Westerns and Julien Ehrlich of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, is getting ready to release their first album, Light Upon The Lake, on June 3rd. Before this album, the only tunes fans had access to were the band’s two songs on Spotify, “Golden Days” and “No Woman,” but they were two fantastically satisfying songs, attracting attention from music critics and leaving fans wanting more.

Ehrlich, the lead vocalist, is also the drummer, which is something that you do not see too often but was a welcome change-up. Whitney’s creative riffs and smooth falsettos provide the audience with music that gives off more of a folk vibe than Smith Westerns, who are more of a rock band, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, who are more of a soul-psychedelic rock band. Whitney’s trumpet player, Will Miller, adds another interesting element of layers to the band, helping them to construct their own unique sound. They are very personable with the crowd during the show, talking and interacting a lot with the audience, about the song they are going to play next and when they will be back in Chicago (Pitchfork Music Festival, July 15th).

Since the band takes root in Chicago, Whitney brought a significant fan base to Thalia. They mostly played songs off their new album, which fans were hearing for the first time and it was a real treat. It is safe to say that based on what they played at the show, people are highly anticipating the release of the new album. The band’s latest hit single, “No Woman,” had the crowd singing along.

If you are craving new tunes for a hot summer’s day at the beach, download Light Upon The Lake immediately when it comes out. Even if it was the first time you heard of Whitney, it should not be your last. The future is bright for this new band. The concert left me making a note in my phone to go download their songs immediately.

Shortly after Whitney left the stage, Unknown Mortal Orchestra came on. The lead singer and guitar player, Ruban Nielson, walked onstage wearing sweatpants and a long-sleeved tee, and majority of band members donned baseball caps. Like their clothes, they also keep their music simple: the band consists of lead vocals, lead guitar, bass guitar, drum, keywords, and backing vocals.

Although Unknown Mortal Orchestra has a relaxed, laid back performing attitude, they provide an atmosphere with a certain energetic vigor that really gets the crowd going. Each band member was not afraid to take a couple minutes each at various points in the set for solos, which really showcased each of their extreme talents with their instruments. The keyboard player, Quincy McCrary, really stuck out as an unexpected flair to the group.

Nielson was sitting on the edge of the stage multiple times throughout the concert, and he even climbed out on the rail, held up by only the audiences’ grips, to sit on the side of one of the box seats, which definitely riled up the crowd.

The setlist had a nice up-tempo, down-tempo alternation, which kept the crowd engaged and helped the show flow smoothly. The down-tempo songs were equally as captivating as the up-tempo ones, with not a single dull moment in the set. The crowd could not help but sing along the entire time. The show also had a nice mix of old material and new material, ranging from back to their self-titled first album, circa 2010, with songs like “Ffunny Ffrends” to their newest songs like “Multi-Love.”

The extra-long three-song encore was a special treat and the icing on the cake, when the band came back out to play “Like Acid Rain” and “Necessary Evil.” Finally, they topped the show off with their last song and latest hit single “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone,” which left everyone the crowd bouncing around and head bobbing.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra just keeps getting better and better with time. Expect more high-quality material from these guys in the future. With Chicago being one of the first stops on their new tour, Multi-Love, Unknown Mortal Orchestra will be touring with Whitney through the end of May. Look for their performances at music festivals in the U.S. and across Europe for the rest of the summer.

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