Review: Whitehorse at the Rio Theatre, Vancouver, BC
With that line, about 20 minutes into a live show, Luke Doucet makes it clear that Whitehorse is more than the sum of its parts. This is a good thing because its parts are significant and talented: Whitehorse is a duo with Doucet–one of the finest guitarists in Canada by reputation–and Melissa McLellard whose beautiful voice has anchored strong songwriting for years now. The two have been married for a while, and they finally released their debut album as a duo last year.
And what an album it is. While both Luke and Melissa continued to tour solo after the album was released they finally embarked on an inaugural Whitehorse tour which brought them to Vancouver’s beautiful Rio Theatre last weekend.
On a night that was wet even by west coast standards, a nearly capacity crowd filled the seats at beautiful venue by the time the show opened with a video montage set to the album’s opening track Eulogy for Whiskers, Pt. 1. With at least four guitars on the stage, a keyboard, kick drum and two different sets of microphones, promising sounds lay ahead.
With three different guitars used in the first three songs of the set, it was clear that all of that instrumentation wasn’t going to go to waste. Doucet switched between an open body acoustic model before finally picking up the white bodied Gretsch Falcon guitar he’s well known for playing. Doucet was apparently quite sick (with McLelland saying they had even considered cancelling the gig) but you couldn’t tell it by the guitar playing: this was the finest night of live guitar I’ve heard since seeing Daniel Lanois last August.
The duo’s cover of Springsteen’s I’m On Fire was an unexpected highlight early in show, particularly with McLelland bridging from the last verse of the song into a couple of verse’s of At Last. With news of Etta James’ death coming earlier in the day, the touching tribute brought a round of applause from the audience.
McLelland’s Passenger 24 made it clear what the telephone handsets each musician had hanging from their main microphones were for. Singing into these instead of the main mics produced the distant hollow sound that the recorded version of the song features prominently.
The couple were obviously comfortable on stage and shared stories of a music soaked life with the audience. Doucet introduced Broken as a reworking of an old song of his and the first song the couple wrote together while sitting drunk on a patio in Budapest. The song’s “…you gotta have a heart / to have a broken one…” is one of the album’s more memorable. Another highlight of the album is Emerald Isle (featured below,) written after Doucet ran his first marathon in Ireland and was surprised to find McLelland waiting at the finish line despite the fact that she was on tour in Australia at the time. Travelling halfway around the world on a tight schedule to see the person you love finish a marathon? That’s love if I’ve ever heard it. (You can see a video of the song below.)
Doucet’s daughter Chloe joined the couple on stage next for an upbeat cover of the Dolly Parton classic Jolene. It’s clear that talent runs in the family,and I’ll be keeping my eyes open for the younger Doucet’s next gig.
With the show winding down Doucet and McLelland started talking about their next album, currently a working in progress. A title’s been chosen and with Doucet keen to share it McLelland interrupted and suggested a contest of sorts: the album’s name is derived from Wonder Woman postcard on one of the tables at the nearby Templeton Diner. The first person to send the band the name of the album gets a free lunch. Go forth and try to collect friends: I stopped in for breakfast the next morning, but didn’t quite figure it all out. I’m probably just as happy to leave it a surprise for you guess at: it’s the second table in from the door, on the left.
With an extensive back catalogue to draw from and an album of new material that’s almost certain to be nominated for next year’s Polaris Prize things look good for the future of Whitehorse. McLelland and Doucet are both tremendous fun to watch perform and their enthusiasm for the audience and each other is infectious. See the couple when you can, and keep an eye out for that new album because you’re not going to want to miss it.
Whitehorse are touring Europe then back in eastern Canada and the United States through the end of March. Complete dates are on their web site. The band’s debut album can be bought anywhere you normally find good music.