Whitney + Chai @ Corona Theatre – 13 February 2020

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Whitney in Montreal

When you don’t know the support band for the night, you kind of expect it to be at least vaguely similar to the headliner, musically speaking.  It quickly becomes apparent that this is not going to be the case tonight, though, as Nagoya all-girl 4-piece Chai bound out on stage and dive into their unique brand of J-Pop!  Its an intriguing watch, too. 

Chai

Midway through, all 4 are dressed in multi-coloured yeti costumes at the front of the stage running through the kind of slick choreographed dance routine that OK Go would be proud of, before returning to their respective instruments for the conclusion of the set.  Drummer Yuna endears herself to the crowd with her efforts to speak English too: “thank you for coming our show!  We like poutine! I think cheese and gravy go very good together!”  Each statement is greeted with the kind of roars of support that most opening bands can only dream of!  It’s an absolute blast.

Formed from the ashes of the criminally underrated Smith Westerns, Chicago’s Whitney are already unquestionably bigger than Smith Westerns ever were, as testified to by tonight’s sold-out Corona Theatre.  The 7-piece assemble almost in a crescent around drummer and frontman Julien Ehrlich, who kicks off Polly with his trademark soft, delicate vocals.  It’s a huge contrast to his normal between-song voice; he sounds almost like a deep-voiced surfer dude as he proclaims “not to throw shade on other cities, but we just spent 4 days in Florida…it’s good to be in a real city!“  No expense is spared in re-creating the sound of the immaculate No Matter Where We Go, as a 1-man brass section perfectly replicates the novel trumpet solo before the song slows down and merges seamlessly into the wonderful Giving Up.  The largely instrumental Rhododendron and Day & Night sound particularly good too.

One guy in the crowd jokingly takes offence at a previous comment: “HEY WHAT’S WRONG WITH FLORIDA?!”  Julian is mostly unfazed: “everyone here gets the gist…Miami is kinda fun, but the rest…”  The laughter that fills the room shows that he doesn’t need to finish that sentence!  Follow is one of the more upbeat moments, culminating in a stellar solo from Max Kakacek, who then provides the delicate finger-picked intro to Light Upon The Lake.  The crowd singalong that accompanies the chorus is so loud that Julian is drowned out as “will liiiiiife geeeeeet ahead of me!” reverberates around the theatre.

After advising all that they are soon heading back to Chicago to record a covers album (“but if it sounds bad, you’ll never hear it!“), a stellar cover of NRBQ’s Magnet is soon followed by an encore book-ended by another couple of Allan Toussaint and Dolly Parton songs; sounds like it’s going to be pretty good, actually.  In between, Used To Be Lonely gets a rapturous singalong, which is trumped in fervour only by a triumphant No Woman. My Love keeps it going, with the trumpeter eliciting a huge left-to-right wave from the crowd with his free hand during his part, in an impressive feat of multi-tasking!  By the end, Julian seems genuinely moved by the whole experience: “this venue’s amazing, this sounded so good; you guys have been an amazing crowd, this has been a strangely emotional show, thanks so much!”  Sounds like Julian has as great a night as we did, then!

Setlist

  1. Polly
  2. No Matter Where We Go
  3. Giving Up
  4. Dave’s Song
  5. Rhododendron
  6. Forever Turned Around
  7. Golden Days
  8. Day & Night
  9. The Falls
  10. Follow
  11. Light Upon The Lake
  12. Magnet (NRBQ cover)
  13. On My Own
  14. Friend of Mine

Encore

  1. Southern Nights (Allen Toussaint cover)
  2. Used To Be Lonely
  3. No Woman
  4. Valleys (My Love)
  5. Gonna Hurry (As Slow As I Can) (Dolly Parton cover)

Review & photos – Simon Williams

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