. : : June 15th, 2019 : : .
The most recently posted Whitehorse recording, about two entries back, came only a few short weeks after shuttering the previous version of this website.
My family had grown bigger, money tighter, and my web host was being a punk. I wasn’t getting any feedback from readers, leading me think everyone had (rightly) gone off to more fertile websites.
I also wasn’t entirely sold yet on Whitehorse’s full band dynamic, so when they announced their follow up Toronto date at Massey Hall — the MOST overrated venue in the city, if not the country — I skipped out on buying a ticket in the name of penny-pinching.
I justified seeing them two more times that year: once, the duo show with the erstwhile retired Kathleen Edwards opening in Port Perry (and it was free!), and another time in Ottawa at the historic National Arts Centre while I was in town visiting an old friend and fellow fan.
Although they came close, they never quite hit a public gig in Toronto in 2018, so I took a Whitehorse sabbatical that year. I likely would’ve taken 2019 off, too, given they had outgrown the best-sounding venues in the city and were moving on up to the bigger stages with the muddier sound systems, and ticket prices had inflated in tandem.
However, their 2019 show in Toronto was breaking the mold: it was to be performed with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at the Roy Thomson Hall.
If there was any band who would benefit from the cinematic melodrama afforded by a full orchestrated treatment, it would be Whitehorse. Indeed, the bio on their record label’s website introduces the band as:
Ethereal folk. Space Cowboy twang. Psychedelic spaghetti western. Intergalactic blues grooves. Pop noir.
No coincidence it repeatedly borrows genre terminology usually reserved for film.
I looked at ticket prices and my heart sank. I couldn’t spend that kind of money… right?
I bargained with myself. I would look at what tickets were available when they went on sale and if I could get a nice box seat (favoured by this taper for the extra height, space, and privacy it affords), I’d consider biting.
Sure enough, there was a ticket.
Would-be-Buyer’s Remorse crept in. “OK, I know I made that deal, but $90 is a lot of groceries…”
The devil on my shoulder chimed in. When will you ever get to see Whitehorse perform with an orchestra again? It’s once-in-a-lifetime!
This time I bargained with the devil. “I’ll check back in 10-minutes, and if the seat’s still available, I’ll pick it up.” I told myself that, even if I became strapped for cash, I could always sell the ticket. Right?
Ten minutes later, I checked. Ticket was still available.
I don’t believe in signs, or serendipity, or fate — but I do believe if you make a deal with a devil, you’d be a fool to back out. I hit Purchase.
Now, I know I’ve talked before about what a solitary hobby live taping can be. You can’t talk for the entire set, too much movement is verboten, and you’re constantly distracted by things like are my microphones still facing the right way? are my levels good? do I have enough space on the memory card to capture everything? will the batteries hold out? It’s not exactly fertile ground for a social experience. 90% of the time I go solo, and that’s just the way I like it.
This was one of those times, but the group of three out of town women who were sharing the box with me had other ideas…
Friendly and outgoing, they made constant polite small talk. A little how d’ya do, neighbour? Perhaps it was because they were visiting from one of our country’s friendly provinces (basically any of them EXCEPT Ontario would fit this criteria), likelier it was the goblets of wine each held, but questions about the band, the venue, the city and more piled on as I distractedly smiled and gave short, uninterested answers hoping they would lose interest in me and go back to gabbing among themselves.
Meanwhile, my eyes scanned the room. Where was security setting up? Where were the speakers? Given that I was taping directly into the Edirol’s built in mics, how could I position the recorder to get the best sound possible while avoiding attention from the staff — and my chatty seatmates?!
If you caught the William Prince post earlier this week, you may have noticed that I wasn’t able to figure it out in time, and the first 30-seconds or so of his introduction are truncated. I didn’t go overboard trying to hide what I was doing either — I hoped that if it were to incite a series of questions, they would come between sets and the ladies would know to quiet themselves a bit.
Alas, I remember during the first few of Whitehorse’s songs — mid-song, even — fielding questions like, “Oh, they’re from Toronto? I thought they were from Whitehorse! Why would they name themselves after a city in the Northwest Territories if they’re from Toronto? Oh, they’re husband-and-wife? That’s so cute! Have you seen them often? Might I have heard them anywhere? How long have they been together?”
The sound from the venue began swelling from the two-dozen plus musicians on stage, and drowned the main offender out. I pointed at my ears while shaking my head no, shrugged, and turned back toward the stage. Unfriendly and anti-social? Yes, but such is the lot in life for a concert bootlegger. J’excuse. C’est la vie.
Roy Thomson Hall is owned and maintained by the Massey Hall Group, so the sound in the venue is not leaps and bounds better than it’s bigger, better known brother. In fact, the most disappointing part of the experience was just how frequently the large symphonic orchestra was completely and illogically drowned out by the guitars and drums of the standard four-piece band.
The most exciting part of the experience was the TSO inspired a set list that was varied and career-spanning. It would have been easy to use this opportunity to further promote Panther In The Dollhouse, but instead the band leaned most heavily on their debut full-length (and what is unquestionably the most melodramatic album title of the decade) The Fate of the World Depends on This Kiss, while sprinkling in even older, long retired tracks like Night Owls and Mexico Texaco, and formally unreleased album outtakes Sweet Melissa Jean and Strike Me Down among the band’s more standard staples.
The TSO contributions shone brightest during the songs that allowed them to creep into the foreground, and luckily (with a little bit of help from post-production EQ magic), the microphones on the Edirol were sensitive enough to pick up a lot more of their instrumentation than I was, so you should be able to hear a majority of the swaths and flourishes of symphony throughout.
What you’ll hear much less of than you may be used to is Luke Doucet‘s unmatched guitar work and ripping solos, which took a backseat on that evening for the orchestra to take a bit of the spotlight.
If that doesn’t dissuade you from giving this tape a listen, virtually everything else about it –from the inclusion of TSO to the unique set — should pique your interest and make this a must-hear.
- Out Like A Lion
- Achilles’ Desire
- Sweet Melissa Jean
- Sweet Disaster
- Emerald Isle
- Mexico Texaco
- Night Owls
- Die Alone
- Strike Me Down
- Tame As The Wild Ones
- Devil’s Got A Gun
- Mismatched Eyes (Boat Song)
- I’m On Fire [Springsteen]