Free At Noon Flashback: Whitney and Hiss Golden Messenger are two sides of the same rootsy coin

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Whitney | photo by Tiana Timmerberg for WXPN
Whitney | photo by Tiana Timmerberg for WXPN

In just a few short hours, Whitney will play a sold-out show at Philly’s First Unitarian Church. It’s sure to be a life-changing, self-actualizing event, but not for me, because I didn’t get tickets in time. This would normally be cause for heartbreak, but this afternoon, I got a taste of what I would be missing when the septet took to the World Cafe Live stage for an all-too-brief, half hour set.

Whitney has been touring steadily since the release of their excellent debut, Light Upon the Lake, and it shows. Thanks to songwriting duo Max Kakacek and Julien Ehrlich, they have Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s sense of groove and Smith Western’s ear for arrangement, but they’ve translated it into a sound that’s all their own. The band may have only had time for six songs, but that constraint assured that they were all highlights. From the infectious, breezy “No Matter Where We Go” to the singalong catharsis of “Golden Days”, they sounded lively and polished, even if they had admittedly “partied too hard” the night before.

Hiss Golden Messenger | photo by Tiana Timmerberg for WXPN
Hiss Golden Messenger | photo by Tiana Timmerberg for WXPN

Whitney was followed by Hiss Golden Messenger, who were celebrating the release of their brand new record, Heart Like a Levee. While both bands operate under a similar mix of rock, folk, and Americana, their sets felt like two sides of the same coin. Where Whitney was scrappy and youthful, Hiss Golden Messenger was calm and assured.

The band was all smiles as they treated the World Cafe audience to a gorgeous buffet of deep grooves and heartfelt vocals courtesy of frontman/rhythm guitarist M.C. Taylor. Their set was largely hushed and serene, but for me, the highlight of the bunch was its greatest outlier, the funky, hypnotic “Like a Mirror Loves a Hammer.” This was the only track on which Taylor played electric, and its throbbing wah guitar and groovy keyboards were an exciting departure from the downtempo bliss.

If this is what the band sounds like having never played these songs before, I can only imagine what they’ll sound like next month when they play Union Transfer. I suggest you don’t make the same mistake I did with Whitney–get your tickets now. More info can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.

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