Whitehorse @ Glenn Gould Studio

. : : September 21st, 2011 : : .

When Whitehorse, then still titled “Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet,” announced a show at beautiful Glenn Gould Studio in the CBC building, I was a bit conflicted as to whether or not to buy tickets. I’ve run across both singers more than once, but usually at NXNE showcase events where they perform only a handful of songs and then disappear behind the curtains. I’ve been impressed by their performances, both together and individually, but for whatever reason, I haven’t spent any significant time following up on my interest. On the other hand, it was sure to be a great show. But then again, tickets are almost $40. True, but I’m convinced ANYTHING will sound good at Glenn Gould.

Mixed with the large lapse in time between ticket sales and performance date, is it any wonder I became a bit flustered when show day came, and I still couldn’t remember whether I actually bit the bullet and purchased a ticket? I mean, I sort of remembered doing it, and I booked the time in my Blackberry calendar (which I normally wouldn’t do for a seated show without, you know, a guaranteed seat), but I couldn’t find any sort of confirmation e-mail in any of my several e-mail addresses. Could it be possibly my admittedly faulty memory inventing the purchasing of the tickets? Or did I just stupidly erase the e-mail, and let self-doubt and taping anxiety take over?

I decided to call the box office to find out. After giving all my details, I was told that there was no record of me having purchased a ticket for the event. The answer, although not completely out of character, still didn’t sit well with me. After discussing with uber-fan and friend Rick, we decided that I had tweeted about the ticket purchase — but he couldn’t find the tweet in my history. Curiouser and curiouser. Is it possible, then, that this was some case of a long distance shared false memory?

But wait — here, on my credit card statement, way back in June! A purchase of $38 to the establishment in question. Were there any other shows I purchased from them? I ran back recent and forth-coming concerts in my head, but nothing rang a bell. So I called the box office a second time, and got another agent. Repeating back little more than my name, and the agent jumped in with me, reading back my information. Sure enough, my name and address WAS on file. And yes, I had an aisle seat, just as I remembered. PHEW. Now only to run my errand and get to the venue in time.

This last minute rigamarole put me about half an hour behind my initial schedule, so I darted out the door and off I went. Of course, it was in the middle of the last of the summer downpours. I clutched my umbrella, hoping to not only keep myself dry, but also my bag of reading material and recording equipment. The only thing worse than waiting for a bus in the rain is being in a hurry while on a bus in the rain. These things ramble on at little more than a snails pace. Sure, passenger safety and all that, but I had little more than 45 minutes to make a 50-minute trip.

I could see the minutes ticking away on my clock and I white-knuckledly remember why I always arrive so goddamn early for concerts. Finally off at Union Station, I have to speed walk down Front Street to the venue which, no matter how many times I visit it, always seems to be further than I remember it being the last time. I start to enter the Studio when I remember, “DAMN! I still don’t have my ticket. I rush over to the box office in the other end of the lobby where I uneasily make small talk while the agents find my ticket. I make a crack about being a bit late, but they assure me I’m still OK — the two minute warning had just gone off. I had the foresight to put on my gear while on the subway, so, breathing heavy and slightly damp, I just had to get comfortable and do some last minute microphone adjustments before the show began.

After an elongated opening set from Frazey Ford, the lights dimmed and a video started playing on a small square projection screen at the back of the stage. The mostly silent video featured Luke and Melissa getting up and getting ready, and then heading out to a forested area (familiar to those who have seen the band’s first promotional photographs) while Eulogy for Whiskers, I is piped through the speakers. The lights dim a second time upon the close of the montage, and the crowd erupts as the couple take the stage.

For those of you who’ve yet to listen to any of my Luke Doucet or Melissa McClelland recordings, here’s my impression of the duo: Melissa is a great singer and a good guitarist; husband and band mate Luke is a good singer and a great guitarist. Individually, they are mesmerizing, but together? Grab your hats, ladies and gentlemen. They are the perfect ying to the others yang, and the embodiment of a power music couple.

Leaning on loops pedals, the duo functioned simultaneously as frontmen and backing band. Whether the band’s genre is fixed in roots-based blues or blues-based roots is splitting hairs. The two employed a bevvy of instruments while oscillating between the two sounds, including kick drums, keyboards, tambourines, various hand-sized percussive instruments, bass, electric and acoustic guitars, and of course, their voices. Sometimes powerfully belted into standard microphones, sometimes softly whispered into mic’ed telephone receivers taped to their microphone stands, it would be difficult to argue the star of the night was anything but Melissa’s powerful, soulful voice. Unless it was Luke’s beautiful guitar playing, that seemed to be at once off-the-cuff improvisational and lovingly practiced to perfection.

Whitehorse opened with a thunderous rendition of Killing Time Is Murder, but quickly established they wouldn’t necessarily be sticking to their Whitehorse songs. The next three selections were all culled from the duo’s respective solo catalogs not yet re-recorded under the Whitehorse moniker.

Definitely not a band suitable for anyone afflicted with Attention Deficit Disorder, the band’s songs meandered on for over five minutes more often than not — and a handful of those songs approached the epic nine-minute mark. Regardless of their formidable length, the songs rarely (if ever) felt stalled. Although a half dozen audience members could be seen taking their leave a bit early, the majority of the audience was at the edge of their seats from the opening video to the moment the lovely couple reached out and walked off stage, hand-in-hand.

Complaints about the evening are minor: the loops were played back significantly quieter than they were recorded, so the switch over was jarring. When layering, the loops were difficult to hear under the live instruments. Also, it was clear Luke’s voice was frequently overpowered by Melissa’s. A level adjustment was necessary to compensate, but was ignored. This is underscored during the between song banter; Melissa’s banter is loud, clear and at the forefront of the recording, but Luke’s banter is quiet, and requires significant ear strain to pick up on.

The songs themselves were predictably pretty great sounding, though, which comes across clearly in this excellent recording. Unquestioningly worth a listen for the roots-rock fans of this blog, especially those who also have a taste for blues guitar and soulful vocals. Whitehorse is finishing up their current tour, but expect them back on the road again in early 2012. Toronto-area fans can catch them at the Winter Gardens theatre February 24th.

01. Eulogy for Whiskers, I
02. Killing Time Is Murder
03. Glen Rio *
04. [banter]
05. Cleveland ^
06. [banter]
07. God Loves Me *
08. [banter]
09. Emerald Isle
10. I’m On Fire [Bruce Springsteen]
11. [banter]
12. Broken
13. [banter]
14. Mitzi’s ^
15. Passenger 24
16. [banter]
17. Long Haul Driver ^
18. [encore]
19. [banter]
20. Night Owls
21. [banter]
22. Gun Street Girls [Tom Waits]

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I’m On Fire (Live In Toronto) [MP3 sample]

Thanks to Luke Doucet, Melissa McClelland, collectively Whitehorse, and the staff at the pristine sounding Glenn Gould Studios at CBC.

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