Whitney & Hand Habits Play The Variety Playhouse Atlanta, GA – September 20th, 2019
Coverage By Everett Zuraw
The Variety Playhouse is a theatre, erected back in 1940, serving multiple purposes since its creation. Originally established as a cinema theatre, it became a storage space some time in the 1960s-70s, before being redeveloped by the “Little Five Points Partnership” in the 1980s. Agon, the same owner of the Georgia Theatre in Athens, purchased the building in late 2015. Renovating it, re-opening the venue in September of 2016.
The night kicked off with Hand Habits, a four-piece band for the night, spearheaded by Meg Duffy. Based currently out of Los Angeles, the band ranges in size, shifting in its’ lineup based on the venue/type of performance. On Friday night, they consisted of John Andrews on Drums, Kacey Johansing on guitar and keys, and Kevin Laurel on Bass. Earlier in the day, they played a 3-song set for Paste Magazine.
First releasing a demo compilation in 2012, Pink Demos, Duffy began her project through extensive songwriting, along with a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams”. Continuing with extensive writing, Duffy released This Sounds Nothing Like Before and This Sounds Nothing Like Tonight in 2015. In 2017, the release of Wildly Idle (Humble Before The Void) marked Hand Habit’s first full-length album. Their sophomore album, Placeholder, was released earlier this year in March.
As the audience continued to pile in, Hand Habits kicked off their set with a series of slow, eerily captivating songs. With the drum kit of Whitney’s Max Kakacek taking the center of the stage, the band performed from stage right. Lit only by a dull white, they played in near-darkness for the entirety of their set. John Andrews playing drums in the back, with Kevin Laurel.
Turning the two-story structure into a listening room, the energy fell to calm as Duffy and her keyboardist joined together in vocal harmony while the drummer and bass kept the rhythm. The audience clapped at the end of guitar solos from Duffy and the keyboardist, found during the middle of the set.
Pausing between each song to tune their guitars, Duffy talked about how it is to be on a tour, starting back on September 7th. Giving a short story about how they won a moon lantern the prior night while staying in Birmingham, Alabama. The set ended with a tempo shifted to accompany a faster beat, only to fall back to the steady crawl of earlier songs.
Whitney is currently a six-piece band, based out of Chicago Illinois. It is composed of Max Kakacek on lead guitar, Julien Ehrlich on main vocals/drums, Josiah Marshall on bass, Will Miller on trumpet, Malcolm Brown on keys, Print Chouteau on rhythm guitar, and Charles Glanders serving as the touring sound engineer. Coming together in 2015, after the breakup of Kakacek and Ehrlich’s former band, Smith Westerns, in 2014. Releasing Light Upon The Lake in 2016, the band followed their initial album with a release of a demo version of its’ entirety in 2017. The band’s sophomore album, Forever Turned Around, was released almost a month ago, towards the end of August.
The bands’ music has evolved with influences from indie-folk, rock, and soul. Bordering on pop, though transcending with elements of folk to create a unique sound centered by Ehrlich’s vocals, paired with the non-vocal, grandiose sound of all instruments together.
Whitney took the stage at about 9:30. Kicking their set off with “Polly”, much to the applause of the floor and seated ground audience. Illuminated by pillars and orbs of light, surrounding the stage in a half-circle, the audience cheered to the start of Ehrlich’s drumbeat. Kakacek stood at the front of stage right, often playing guitar rifts to the applause of the floor audience.
Following “Polly”, the set continued with the following:
“No Matter Where We Go” > “Giving Up” > “Friend of Mine” > “Dave’s Song” > “Rhododendron” > “Day & Night” > “The Falls” > “FTA” > “Before I Know It” > “Golden Days” > “LUTL” > “My Life Alone” > “Follow”
Harmony of vocals become apparent more so in the third song, “Giving Up”. Ehrlich struck the drums while looking out into the audience, singing alongside Malcolm Brown, as he played on the piano. Playing into “Friend of Mine”, the songs took on a country twang with the background sounding like the music of old westerns but keeping to a modern beat.
A standout, without vocals, was “Rhododendron”. A jazz song that felt like a perfect opening for a television series; the song plays strongly with the use of trumpets, alongside guitar and keys following up in the soft background. Unlike most other songs, wherein the trumpets add a soft atmospheric quality, it becomes the central point of interest.
At 10:30, the band took a brief pause to celebrate Brown’s birthday, with a cake brought to the stage by one of the crewmembers. Brown blew out the candles as the audience sang a brief verse of happy birthday. Taking shots, the band continued to play (hopefully saving the cake for after the end of their set).
Getting ready to finish the night, the band started their encore with “Used to Be Lonely”. Afterward, they played “On My Own” and “No Woman”. “No Woman” serves as a song with a heavy sense of melancholy, but upbeat enough to bring one into a sense of reflection rather than sadness.
Ending the night with “My Love”, the audience appeared half illuminated by the glow of the red stage lights. Applauding the band as they got up, took a bow, and left the stage.
Whitney continues their tour through December 8th, ending in their hometown of Chicago.
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