Whitney & Ne-Hi Bring Indie Rock To Millenium

It’s exciting to see when bands from Chicago’s independent music scene get the exposure that they so rightfully deserve. Two of the city’s best are Whitney and Ne-Hi and each played in a free show at Millenium Park this past Sunday the 12th as a part of the free concert series the park puts on throughout the Summer.

Here at WLUW, both bands are local favorites, groups we’ve followed and been fans of your a while now, so seeing them play on the amphitheater stage in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion felt slightly odd, but at the same time validating and exciting, and we couldn’t be happier to have witnessed such an extraordinary (and no doubt historic) show, and on such a warm Summer night under a cloudless sky.

The crowd was made up of fans of all ages and as the sun began to set, chears rang out when Ne-Hi took the stage around 6:30. This is a band that blends slightly jagged punk with the charm of an indie band that has a knack for hooks and catchiness. They were dressed as such – tucked in t-shirts/tank tops, a baseball cap, and a beard seem to be part of the uniform for indie rock in 2018 but what gives the band’s stage presence a memorable aspect are the moves by guitarists Mike Wells and Jason Balla. They energetically jump and throw themselves around, make faces when they sing, and their twin guitar trade-offs played with competent technicality and dual vocals give the set its power, however I must also mention the power rhythm section from which came a kickass bass solo (love those).

The band has two full lengths out (Ne-Hi, Offers) and a slew of singles and I’ll be totally honest, I’d put off listening to Ne-Hi until seeing the show and the only songs I was familiar with were “Since I’ve Been Thinking” and “Out of Reach,” and both sounded good but what I thought was the best parts were the songs I didn’t know. There’s something very satisfying about being pretty much completely unfamiliar with a band’s work and then being pretty much completely blown away by their live show. Their positive energy was palpable and they were comfortable on such a large stage. A new song was played and by at least half way through the set the band was drenched in sweat – a sign of a show done well.

It was not yet dark when Ne-Hi left the stage and Whitney would take it fifteen minutes later. The live band is made of seven members led by drummer/singer Julius Ehrlich and was accompanied by a string quartet. Before taking the stage, Ehrlich looked quite relaxed actually, walking around the park and speaking to us for a little bit, he was friendly, but upon starting to play what could possibly be one of th elargest crowds they’ve ever played in front of (just my speculation), they looked nervous – in fact Ehrlich said as much to the crowd at some point between songs. nervosu as they may have been, it didn’t show.

The band’s sound is one that fits rather well in the warm weather, it’s not heavy, though it has the swing reminiscent of a certain 60s/70s supergroup of which Neil Young was a member – in fact the third song of the set was a cover of the Neil Young song “On the Way Home.” The rest of the set considted of their debut album Light Upon The Lake and a handful of brand new songs. “We’re writing the second album,” Ehrlich tells the crowd. Some of those new songs, some played just with Ehrlich on acoustic guitar, were only half written, with one billed as a love song with lyrics that were “kinda gibberish.” The new songs were well received but the “classic” tracks from the (modern classic tbh) debut were received with cheers from the people in the crowd, many of who got up and danced on the lawn. “Golden Days,” “Light Upon The Lake,” “Dave’s Song,” and of course “No Woman” made it into the set. What must be mentioned is Whitney’s trumpet player. When brass is used well in a rock/folk setting, it can be absolutely incendiary and blissfull and I can say that every time that trumpet went off on its own, the song was elevated to a different level of emotional high, and the crowd made it known they all appreciated its use by cheering every time it came up, which wasn’t often but just enough to make us feel it every now and again.

The set was relaxed but there was a buzz about the park. As summer draws to a close, those who attended can feel confident that if they do nothing else this season, or did nothing else before, they probably had a pretty good time on August 12th and the night made it pretty high up on their list of summer highlights. At least I can.

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