Whitney Found the Joy in Heartbreak Saturday at Summerfest
Summer is a notoriously popular time of year for breakups. It’s often referred to as “uncuffing season,” because the warm months are all about freedom and fun. But while plenty of people are riding that high this summer, just as many others are wallowing in heartbreak. Luckily for the latter group, however, Whitney know a thing or two about summer anguish and even how to cope with it.
The Chicago rock band took the Johnson Controls World Sound Stage Saturday night to colossal yells from an overflowing audience. They’d just finished a three month long tour a week ago and were supposed to take two weeks off, they told the crowd, but couldn’t resist the Summerfest offer. It was their first time playing the festival and they were raring to go. “We’re gonna play for about an hour, so buckle up,” singer and drummer Julien Ehrlich said through a laugh, wide-eyed as he took in the crowd’s enthusiasm.
They began with “Dave’s Song” before playing everything from their debut album, Light Upon The Lake. They also played a goofy 45 second cover of the “Golden Girls” theme song and a new one from their upcoming album. The setting sun gave the air a warm glow, adding a fitting visual counterpart to Whitney’s lively sonics. “It’s that summery stuff, huh?” Ehrlich noted after “The Falls.” Their songs were just as beautiful live as their studio versions, the romantic melodies punctuated by lush horns and sweeping rhythms. Like the twisting rose imagery of their album cover and merchandise, though, their music had thorns.
“Is anyone in love out there? Summer love, maybe it’s just blossoming?” Ehrlich asked at one point. Some couples kissed, basking in the direction they thought this speech was heading. “This song is about when you break up,” he finished, and went into “Golden Days.” He later used a similar trope to introduce “Follow,” asking if we were still alive and well before saying, “this next song’s about dying.” He made these comments lightheartedly, though, and they gave good context to the band’s first album.
The dancing and smiles their music produced made it easy to forget that Light Upon The Lake is an album about heartbreak. It’s filled with sadness and uncertainty, but also hope. There’s a line in “No Matter Where We Go” where Ehrlich sings “don’t you feel lonely,” and offers to drive around all night, windows down, with that person. And that’s kind of how their set felt—like for the hour they performed, our troubles floated up in the sky and we were grounded with Whitney.