Long time visitors of the site probably remember that I’m a big fan of Kathleen Edwards. If you’re one of those long time visitors of this site, the odds are better than good that you’re also a Kathleen Edwards fan. This blog built it’s reputation upon my recordings of Kathleen’s Drake Underground residency and Dakota Tavern shows.
So it would be redundant to tell you that, following the touring cycle of her 2012 album, Voyageur, Kathleen effectively retired from music, opened up a coffee shop in her hometown of Stittsville, Ontario called Quitters, and otherwise dropped off the proverbial map of Canadian musicians.
I, of course, was profoundly sad, but the last time I saw her at the Oakville Waterfront Festival, she played my request of Away as the last song of the night. I didn’t know it then, but the request was prophetic.
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.
I’ve written (I think a couple of times) in earlier blog entries that this was Whitehorse‘s record release party for Panther In The Dollhouse.
I understand why I’m misremembering it as such. The band had been using social media to create some pre-release hype for the album throughout the recording sessions, making its release feel imminent. The lead single, Boys Like You, had been hit the airwaves three months prior. They’d previewed a couple of additional tracks from the disc at the end of the set, giving that exciting, brand-new feel. Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland even used some in-between song banter to recognize and thank producer Gus van Go, who was in the audience (and I believe about 8-feet from where I was standing).
In retrospect, the biggest reason I likely made that mistake was because of how much this felt like the beginning of a new era for the group.
Arguably the biggest draw of the night, the crowd was now at capacity and stood shoulder-to-shoulder for the third performer of the evening, Canadian Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq.
This observation would be much less note-worthy if Tanya wasn’t constantly contextualized with phrases like “Experimental vocalist” and “Avant-garde” — hardly large selling points for the masses.
Check Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube Music, or your local record store for an Inuk Throat Singing genre — you probably won’t find it represented anywhere. So, what is it about Tanya that has managed to find cross-over success, earning her feature pieces on 60 Minutes, NPR, the New Yorker, the Washington Post and the Guardian?
I won’t pretend to be qualified to throw my opinion out there, but the fact remains: Tanya’s a hit. Her albums have won Juno Awards, the 2014 Polaris Music Prize, Canadian Folk Music and Western Canadian Music Awards. Her debut novel, Split Tooth, similarly was well regarded: it was shortlisted for the 2019 Amazon First Novel Award and won the 2019 Indigenous Voices Award for Published Prose in English.
Can you imagine a line up of four bands where the talent is so formidable that NQ Arbuckle opens the show, and Amelia Curran is only the second performer?
That’s exactly the set-up for Whitehorse‘s record release party for Panther In The Dollhouse album at the Phoenix Concert Theatre, and it’s clear Six Shooter Recorders was prepared to present this show with all guns blazing (pun unfortunately intended). Luckily, the Toronto crowd knew not to miss a good thing, and although the floors hadn’t filled up by the time NQ Arbuckle got off stage, things were starting to get much cozier for Amelia’s set.
Hot on the heels of the release of her eighth(!) album, Watershed, Amelia had gathered momentum with its universal acclaim and mainstream media attention as the album that most blurred the lines between Amelia’s art and work as an advocate for mental health in Canada.
NQ Arbuckleseems like the ultimate basement-bar band. It’s no wonder they’re frequently playing sold out shows at venues like Dakota Tavern in and around Toronto: front-man Neville Quinlan‘s sprechgesang (a german word for spoken-singing — don’t worry, I had to look it up too!) and clever lyrics, the band’s tight rhythm section, the hooks that are instantly catchy (but maybe not in a top-40 sort of way), there’s no question that they’ve carved a comfortable niche for themselves and developed a devout following.
But I can’t help but wonder if they’re really pushing for any more than that. After all, there was five years between the Juno-nominated album Let’s Just Stay Here and the follow up album, The Future Happens Anyway. Their recent single, Love Songs for the Long Game, was the first sign of new music from the band in the six years since.
To compliment the Whitehorse recording posted earlier this week, here’s a couple of songs from the archive, captured from the CBC Music Backstage Pass television program.
These tracks were recorded weeks before the release of their debut full length LP, The Fate of the World Depends on This Kiss at an undisclosed location (likely in rural Ontario, possibly at the Keelor family farm — but that’s merely speculation).
The videos are available on YouTube should you prefer a visual but if not, Mismatched Eyes (Boat Song) is recorded outdoors, presumably on the lawn of the interior cabin where Achilles’ Desire was captured, while a caramel and ash-coloured cat takes interest in the microphone cables, inches toward the couple, and eventually lies down comfortably at Melissa’s feet.
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.