. : : August 12th, 2017 : : .
Having seen Whitehorse about half a dozen times before, you’d think they wouldn’t be able to surprise me. Especially for a free outdoor show in Port Hope, a quaint town about an hour and a quarter east of Toronto with a population of ~16,700, put on to celebrate Ontario’s 150th birthday.
I’d seen the band perform as a duo using looping pedals to build their songs up from the ground. More recently, I’d seen the band performing as a traditional four-piece, a configuration that seemed to be the new standard.
It was that iteration of the band I was expecting on that summery August evening, but the band pulled out a card that completely caught me off guard in the best way possible.
Devoid of all the gimmicks, the band played a generous hour-long set strictly as a duo, sticking almost entirely to voice and guitars (one electric and one acoustic). The one exception was Boys Like You, a song that (apparently) relies heavily on the hip-hop-influenced back beat, whose sample was pumped through the PA.
Otherwise, the set was an especially intimate performance — a prize, given the intimacy the band’s live performances had been built on. Luke and Melissa, husband and wife, have a chemistry and a non-verbal shorthand that is palpable from the stage that becomes an almost voyeuristic experience to watch.
Stripped to the very basics, it was insight to what these songs must’ve sounded like in their very earliest iterations. It also afforded a return to the looser, improvisational feel of their early duo performances.
Perhaps afforded by the casual nature of a free outdoor show in a small town, the second half of the set list was another unexpected treat: a couple of deeper cuts, including The Fate of the World Depends on This Kiss‘ Boat Song (Mismatched Eyes) — the song credited as being the first true Whitehorse song — and the bluesy track from Leave No Bridge Unburned, The One I Hurt.
I don’t have a lot of experience recording outdoor shows — in fact, in the original info/txt file I wrote shortly after the show, I incorrectly credited it as the first outdoor show I’d ever recorded; the recent post of Hannah Georgas‘ JunoFest set proves that tidbit false, and I attempted an outdoor Kathleen Edwards show a few years earlier that didn’t turn out so hot; there was also how-did-I-forget-those concerts by the like of Meaghan Smith, Paper Lions, and more. My relative inexperience shows a bit in this recording, but at least this time I was wise enough to remember to bring and use the mics’ windscreens. The warm summer day gave way to a cooler, windier evening, and even though it was estimated as many of 20% of the town’s population attended the event, there was still a good amount of space between concert-goers. This was unfortunate: the wall of bodies pressed up against the stage in more typical venues could’ve provided another barrier between the recording gear and the elements.
However, this wasn’t a typical venue, a typical show, or even a typical concert experience for me. My wife, son, and mother all came with me. My vision of the night was for a great chance to record sets from perennial favourites Whitehorse and Kathleen Edwards (more on that to come!). My wife’s vision was of cuddling under the stars on a picnic blanket. My mom and son’s were, apparently, to entirely ignore the fact that a concert was happening at all, and get in grandma-grandson playtime.
I did what any taper with over ten years of experience does when faced with such obstacles: I improvised. Rather than wearing the microphones on my shirt’s lapel, I clipped them to the corners of a camp chair, laid down the blanket about 8 or so feet back from the chair, and set up the kid and my mom another 8 feet behind my wife and I. I was hoping the space would give everyone the experience they wanted, and I’d be able to go home with a halfway listenable copy of the show.
Being nearly ten feet away from expensive recording gear in the dark, completely unable to keep an eye on it, monitor levels, batteries, etc., is not the best way to ease this taper’s usual taping anxiety. Luckily, it seems that it was for the best I stayed away — my line-in jack must be loose as there’s bursts of static as I’m first adjusting levels at the beginning of the show. It probably wasn’t until I was forced to change the batteries after Emerald Isle that I was able to detach myself a bit from the process and shrug away with the knowledge that the tape was going to be flawed with a big old gap in the middle of it anyway.
And the tape is flawed, but it turned out way, way better than it has any right to be. Other than the frustrating static when setting up and checking levels, the gusts of wind that appear from time to time, and a lady talking directly into the mics during the opening lines of I’m On Fire, the show is much better than very listenable. The sound quality is otherwise excellent, I’d go as far to say.
It required a bit of work on the back end — I had to cut all frequencies under ~ 100hz down to zero to cut out the harshness of the wind. Sound wise, it only effected the low end punch of the pumped-in drum track on Boys Like You.
But if you can overlook the flaws, this diamond of a tape is brilliant! An unusual but excitingly fresh performance and mostly great sound quality means this recording deserves to be in the collections of Whitehorse fans everywhere. If you’ve enjoyed my Whitehorse tapes from days gone by, don’t hesitate: grab this one at once!
- Devil’s Got A Gun
- Baby What’s Wrong
- Sweet Disaster
- Emerald Isle
- [banter] [cut]
- Achilles’s Desire
- Boys Like You
- The One I Hurt
- Epitaph In Tongues
- Boat Song (Mismatched Eyes)
- Die Alone
- I’m On Fire [Springsteen]