Whitney, SALES and Syracuse University’s own Charlie Burg took to the Goldstein Auditorium stage on Wednesday night for this semester’s Bandersnatch concert, put on by University Union. The show’s focus on acoustic acts was a different step for University Union, whose Bandersnatch concerts have geared mostly towards rap and electronic performances in the past. Over 100 students were in attendance, eager to see the touring indie acts and local favorite play their sets.
Charlie Burg opened the show, setting the night’s laid-back, indie tone. Burg, a junior music industry major, writes songs that are influenced by both R&B and alternative rock. Most of the songs seemed to really fit into the former genre, with Burg crooning into the microphone and animatedly swaying across the stage to rile up his audience.
Burg’s backing band didn’t go unnoticed either. The rhythm section was extraordinarily tight and dynamic; the bassist played intricate bass fills that would not have been out of place in a funk band, and the drummer’s kick matched perfectly to round out the low-end. Burg’s keyboard player provided additional atmosphere, and certainly did his part to elevate the poppy hooks coming out of their Burg’s guitar strumming and sweet vocal melodies. Burg sang his recent release “U Used To,” and urged the crowd to harmonize with him in the song’s closing vocals. Burg also played new songs like his closing song “Bookstore Girl,” from a soon to be released album.
Their set kept the crowd completely engaged with each measure. Every song Burg and his band played kept the crowd dancing, head-bobbing and singing along. A female backing vocalist and a rapper joined Burg and his band for a rendition of Kali Uchis’s popular single “After the Storm.”
Next to take the stage was SALES, the Orlando, FL indie-rock duo. The band consists of singer and guitarist Lauren Morgan and guitarist Jordan Shih, who for this performance were accompanied by a drummer. Morgan and Shih both met while they were in college. Their sound is quite minimal, highlighted by the interplay of Morgan and Shih’s light strumming and textural leads, and softly played grooves made up of mostly hi-hat tapping and punchy snare hits. The band also had some great stage banter with the crowd, inspiring cheers for half-off sushi and their enjoyment of the dirty snow left on the ground in Syracuse. They even paused during the set to congratulate the audience for getting through college.
Morgan’s voice is a soothing soprano that weaved from singing in soft whispers to higher-pitched squeaks, as evidenced in their song “Crash.” Both methods are appealing, her vocal melodies and delivery are charming and varied, making it the most captivating part of the band’s set. The songs were also pleasant in structure and pacing, most meandering at mid-tempo or slightly slower.
Nevertheless, seeing SALES in such a large venue didn’t seem to lend itself to their sound. The band is without a bass player or keyboard, and that lack of lower frequency noise was a detriment. Although Morgan’s singing was fantastic, and the guitar work interesting, there were no rhythmic dynamics. It made all their songs seem to blend together, and the crowd seemed to become disengaged after a while. Their closing song “Chinese New Year,” with a slightly more upbeat tempo, snapped the audience back to the moment and ended their set on an energetic note.
Whitney, the concert’s headliner, sheepishly took the stage as vocalist Julien Ehrlich first stopped to take off his shoes, exposing his red woolen socks underneath. Ehrlich and guitarist Max Kakacek sat down on stools with their guitars, and brass player Will Miller assumed his position standing between the two of them.
Instead of going straight into their opening song, the band simply looked at the audience in a humble disbelief, almost refusing to believe that anybody could possibly be there to see them play. Ehrlich informed the audience that they might even be nervous. “We’ve only done an acoustic set like this once before in Portugal,” he said. “And they might have only liked it because we were foreigners.”
With a laugh from the audience, Whitney began their set with the single “Gonna Hurry (As Slow As I Can).” Ehrlich’s falsetto is soft, but incredibly clear, and sends the entire crowd into complete silence. After the song ends, the band begins to consult with one another about what song should come next, and something becomes very clear: They have no set list planned. As they banter back and forth about what to play next, the appeal of Whitney is obvious. In their simplicity and realness, they don’t pretend to be anything they’re not. They let the audience in on their creative process, even if it might expose a flaw or two.
They decide on playing two songs, “Dave’s Song” and “Polly,” from their 2016 album Light Upon the Lake. Kakacek backs Ehrlich’s crisp vocals with rhythmic guitar plucking, while Miller pierces the apparent calmness with his trumpet, adding sonic depth to the songs.
Keeping with the set’s informal spirit, the band decides to play a song for the crowd that they haven’t even named yet, much less finished writing. The song captures a sense of life at a standstill, creating a melancholy that seems to wash over the entire audience.
Whitney’s sound is so heartbreakingly beautiful in its simplicity, that it’s almost haunting. After each song ends, the crowd is left speechless, but the band’s sarcastic banter snaps them back into the moment.
As Whitney prepares to wrap up their set and discusses what their final song should be, a girl shouts from the audience, “No Matter Where We Go,” one of the band’s most popular songs. The band instantly erupts into laughter and speaks completely unfiltered about how much they hate the song. But Whitney is not one to disappoint. Cautioning the audience that they’ve never played “No Matter Where We Go” acoustically, Ehrlich and Kakacek talk out the logistics of the song as the crowd waits in anticipation. As Kakacek perfects the song’s catchy hook and is ready to play, Ehrlich informs the crowd, “This is going to be weird.”
The audience bops along to the song’s light vocals and jangly rhythm. Throughout the entire song, the band members can’t help but laugh. Even Ehrlich struggles to sing through some of the lyrics. But the audience’s infectious happiness keeps the band playing, because after all, they didn’t make the set list.
Co-reviewed by Dan Lyon and Nicole Engelman