Whitney is a band formed out of the smouldering ashes of Max Kakacek’s former band, indie rock outfit Smith Westerns. Their lead singer Cullen Omori went on to release a widely praised debut solo album earlier this year, whilst Kakacek pulled together a group of six musicians to carry on his blossoming recording career. Whitney released their debut album Lights Upon The Lake earlier this month, and it appears to have somewhat divided opinion; Pitchfork praised it’s straightforward, almost naive 70s leaning soft rock vibe, giving it their coveted Best New Music tag; others have not been so kind, taking that exact vibe and using it to beat them with. Tonight they are headlining their first UK tour, playing the tiny upstairs room in the Northern Quarter’s Gullivers pub, and it’s easy to tell from the off that the crowd are very much on the Pitchfork side of things.

The room is packed, more so than I’ve ever seen Gullivers, and man it’s hot. If I could see the walls properly I imagine there would be sweat dripping down them. The band wade through the crowd to the front (a delightful quirk of the Gullivers set up) all six of them packing onto the small stage, and begin their particular brand of feel good 70s MOR. If that sounds, well, a bit shit, let me tell you this: it is far from it. It’s joyous. Absolutely fucking joyous from start to finish. Singer and drummer (I love a singing drummer) Julian Ehrlich (himself a sometime member of Smith Westerns) is centre stage, swigging red wine out of a pint glass, dressed inappropriately in a sweatshirt (sweat being the imperative word here), his sweet voice crystal clear above the gentle racket of his bandmates. There are two guitarists, a keyboard player, a bassist and even a bloody trumpeter who pipes up wonderfully from time to time, providing a particularly great interlude on the instrumental ‘Red Room’ jam.

They play the majority of their great debut album, with highlights coming thick and fast: the jaunty, summer haze of ‘Golden Days’, the reggae lite ‘On My Own’ (not a cover of the Les Mis song, alas…), the simple beauty of ‘Light Upon The Lake’, a song which they confess they don’t play live too much but which I’m sure glad they did tonight, it’s wonderful. Early doors they cover The Everly Brothers’ ‘So Sad’, and again the title is very misleading – it’s gorgeous and warm. During one song, a member of the band’s group in the crowd FaceTimes the bassists’ dad, and he twists the phone around the room, showing his beaming father the adoring crowd cheering on his son, in a wonderful, weirdly touching moment. On occasion I genuinely worry that Ehrlich might pass out from heat and wine consumption, he’s gone a funny shade of red, but his voice never waivers, his beats are never missed, his bashful interaction with the crowd never less than sweetly endearing. I feel a new man crush developing.

The ‘encore’ (‘We’ll just stand, swig some wine and sit back down and play more’)  is perfect. A cover of a Bob Dylan song that I don’t recognise (for that I am grateful as it doubles the enjoyment) is passionate and boisterous, but the best is saved for last. ‘No Woman’ is Whitney’s ‘hit’, their knockout song amongst a set of knockout songs. As soon as the keys start up, the crowd burst into full voice, singing every word back to a quite astonished looking band who are looking round at each other an beaming with elation. It’s almost like this is the first time they’ve heard their song sung back at them, and their reaction is cute – there shouldn’t be any surprise though, it’s a huge song and after this summer’s festival slots it’s only going to get even more huge. It’s something Whitney will have to get used to – they will return to Manchester later this year but they will play to the much larger Gorilla crowd. Just an FYI guys, that ‘No Woman’ sing along is going to be deafening by then, so come prepared with more endearing surprise faces.

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