Review: A Solid Opening Night for Whitney’s Trio of Thalia Hall Shows

Winter traditions are plentiful, but every once in a while a new one pops up and feels as necessary as the tried and true ones. Such is the case with Whitney and their wintertime Chicago shows. Whether it’s at the start of December, right before Christmas, or during Valentine’s day season, there is just something special about these shows (especially the Thalia Hall ones). Last week, Whitney continued the tradition with a three-night stint at Thalia Hall. I had the opportunity to check out the opening night with Liam Kazar opening what would be a a perfect treat for the holiday season.

We’re just a year out from Liam Kazar‘s fantastic album Due North and throughout that time he has been playing some fantastic shows. This opening set was another great show to add to that growing list of performances. Kazar seemed completely at ease with Lane Beckstrom and Spencer Tweedy by his side, letting his wonderful songs fill the loud Thalia Hall.

Kazar really caught the crowd’s attention with his blend of alt-country cadence that this evening was made for with some alternative leanings. His sound feels perfectly inviting especially when his sister Sima Cunningham (of the recently reinvigorated Finom, fka OHMME) joined in on the set. It was truly a Chicago-rich set as Kazar joked about which high school was most represented that night.

When it came time for Whitney, the crowd seemed relieved to finally let all that anticipation melt away. Max Kakacek, Julien Ehrlich, and a wave of touring band members filled the stage ready to impress. Kakacek and Ehlich have always been the center of Whitney, but they have always been lifted to new heights by their amazing band. Such was the case this evening as they all came together beautifully. The opening notes of “No Matter Where We Go” kicked things off incredibly well. “So don’t you feel lonely no matter where we go” sings Elhrich, a line that was truly evident as the night went on.

Surprisingly, their set was bereft of a cover song. Whitney seemingly played it by the book, staying true to their set lists of the past few weeks. But that was certainly fine with the crowd who were entirely in the palm of their hands. Old favorites like “Dave’s Song” and “Polly” are staples and rightly so. These songs are so embedded in the sound you want from Whitney. But that doesn’t mean the crowd wasn’t aching for the new as they reacted as excitedly for “BLUE” and “MEMORY.” Songs off SPARK feel a little clearer, more sure of themselves and their impact.

The encore was immediately prefaced as being a little bit different than their usual sets from this tour cycle. And would you expect anything different? This is a Whitney show at Thalia Hall. Something was destined to happened to set it apart from the rest of the tour. Now it wasn’t something over the top wild or elaborate, just a couple extra songs, one that had been absent from previous shows. But their presence was sure appreciated as “Country Lines” gently lead the crowd into the final four songs. “TWIRL”(the aforementioned rarely played track and surprisingly so considering it was a single) followed and was met with a warm reception.

But of course the song that garnered the most attention was “No Woman.” What is likely many Whitney’s fans first exposure, “No Woman” continues to captivate. It’s always a welcome treat and the usual change of lines (the CTA train shoutout) brought a smile to everyone at Thalia Hall. The show ended with “Valleys (My Love),” the achingly beautiful track off Forever Turned Around.

All photos by Julian Ramirez

Julian Ramirez
Julian Ramirez
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