Whitehorse @ Winter Garden Theatre

. : : February 24th, 2012 : : .

Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland are more than capable performers separately, so seeing the married couple share the stage (as I have three or four times now) is an absolute treat.

Whitehorse is, largely, a re-imagining of the duo’s individual back catalog, performed as a full band with only two members. Wait, what?!

That’s right, there’s only two members on stage, but they literally play guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, and various other instruments, often at the same time, and almost always while sharing vocal duty.

Watching the band perform is an immense treat (at least on par with listening to them!). Unlike many three-plus membered bands, you actually get to witness the songs being constructed right before your eyes. These wonderful, musical architects use loop pedals as the cement that allows them to place layer upon layer, until they sound fuller — nae! — larger, than almost any other band active today.

That’s not to say all the selections are immense, skyscraper-sized songs in the vein of the thunderous Passenger 24 or epic Long Haul Driver. In fact, some selections are stripped down to the classic basics. Emerald Isle, for example, is just a guitar and a shared mic the the uppermost lip of the stage. It is charming and, dare I say it?, romantic, made more so by the couple’s frequently lingering eye contact.

Most songs fall somewhere in the middle but Mitzi’s, a song named after a local diner favoured by Luke and Melissa, exaggerates the process to an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink extreme, and visually, is one of the most impressive live cuts for it.

As mentioned in my Amelia Curran post, I wasn’t expecting on making the trip out to this show — the pricey theatre seating and half-hour sole debut album meant I wasn’t expecting a terribly lengthy show, making it difficult to justify the cost. Somehow, with the aid of meandering extensions and jams on original cuts, and a selection of choice cover songs, Whitehorse managed to pack a ninety-minute set with 16 songs, with memorable performances of each.

One of the aforementioned covers was a remarkable take on Dolly Parton‘s Jolene — one of my personal favourite songs — with Luke’s talented daughter, Chloe Doucet charged with the lead vocals. The youth, while not always technically pitch perfect, performed the song with a passion and yearning well beyond her years. It was a brilliant performance that had the crowd up-in-arms.

The first encore song, and another of the night’s clear show-stoppers, was When The Lights Went Off In Hogtown — a song about the city-wide blackout that occurred in August, 2003. Appropriately, the band was performed unplugged and with all of the venue’s lights off (save for the dimmed emergency lights, of course), with Luke walking up the right aisle as he played the guitar, and Melissa walked up the left, and belted the words. Absolutely breath-taking.

Hogtown also underscored the one flaw of the night: the sound in the venue. As with Amelia’s set, the quieter songs were fairly quiet — which come across exceptionally quiet on the recording. You’ll definitely have the turn up the speakers. But more noticeably throughout is the echoey sound of the theatre on top of the reverb already applied to the vocals. Without amplification, Melissa’s voice and Luke’s guitar both come through crystal clear, and like they’re standing right next to you. When the sound source is from the venue speakers, however? It has that “big hall” sound that makes you sound fairly distant.

Of course, it’s a minor complaint that doesn’t detract much from this otherwise astonishing performance. I’m sure you’ll love it — just keep the volume knob close at hand.

01. [introduction]
02. Night Owls
03. Killing Time Is Murder
04. Glenrio
05. [banter]
06. Cleveland
07. [banter]
08. Emerald Isle
09. I’m On Fire [Bruce Springsteen]
10. Dayton Ohio 1903 [Randy Newman] *
11. [banter]
12. Broken One
13. [banter]
14. Jolene [Dolly Parton] ^
15. [banter] [tease]
16. Monkeys
17. [banter]
18. Mitzi’s
19. Passenger 24
20. Long Haul Driver
21. [banter]
22. Gun Street Girl [Tom Waits]
23. [encore]
24. [banter]
25. When The Lights Went Off In Hogtown
26. [banter]
27. Mexico Texaco

* Melissa McClelland solo
^ featuring Chloe Doucet on vocals

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Long Haul Driver (Live In Toronto) [MP3 sample]

Thank you to Luke Doucet, Melissa McClelland, Chloe Doucet, and everyone at the Winter Garden Theatre.

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