Union Transfer never fails to be a cozy space for audiences and artists alike, and on Sept. 27, the venue was packed with Hands Habits and Whitney fans. The stellar performance was part of Whitney’s 2019 tour, celebrating the launch of their new album, Forever Turned Around.
Opening the night was Meg Duffy performing under the name Hand Habits. Formed in 2012, Hand Habits has released two albums; the second, titled placeholder, received critical acclaim due to its soft and contemporary melodies. On both the guitar and vocals, they meshed together steady strums with soothing vocals. Their entrancing and relaxed presence set the casual mood for the night with songs like “placeholder” and “can’t calm down,” and their conversations with the audience between songs made everyone feel like old friends.
After an emotional and inviting opening by Hand Habits, drum sets and guitars were set up on stage, prepping for Whitney, the main act.
The last time I saw Whitney perform was almost a year and a half ago on Valentine’s Day at Thalia Hall in Chicago. At the time, lead singer Julien Erlich sported flowy, long hair and was dressed in lumberjack–esque flannels. Now, standing before me on stage, Julien’s hair is cut short, and he's upgraded to wearing a suit.
Yet, when “Golden Days” opened, it was like nothing had changed. Guitarist Max Kakacek still expertly played his guitar to Julien’s right, as if he was on stage alone with no one watching. Although they started off with a few classics, they quickly started weaving in songs from the new album, including “Giving Up,” and “Valleys (My Love).”
Between songs are conversational anecdotes, in which Julien pretends to talk about Philly sports while drinking Miller from a can. A translation of his casual body language would suggest that he’s up there on stage just for fun. But as soon as Julien sets the can down and picks up his drum sticks, it’s as if he’s playing songs for the first time, and not the millionth.
What’s so special about Whitney concerts is that they’re very present in the moment, but both old and new songs drift the audience back to a different time or a certain memory. This feeling especially hit with the song “Southern Nights,” which is usually reserved for the end of the set.
Although the concert set list ended around 10, the band promised a long encore much earlier in the night. Most of the time, encores are filled with the most familiar and popular pieces, but Whitney kept even the encore a mix of classics and recently released songs. “Used to Be Lonely” was reserved for a special moment, as the crowd went silent.
Whitney’s concert made Union Transfer feel like a close friend’s crowded living room. With a set that included almost every one of Whitney’s songs, the band and audience developed an intimate relationship throughout the night, and everyone left the venue filled with warmth.