Four days after the release of their new album “Leave No Bridge Left Unburned” (read my review here), the Toronto duo Whitehorse (husband and wife Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland) played its first gig of the tour as part of the Montreal en Lumière Festival. With only the two of them and no prerecorded material to support them, the pair are musical mad scientists with the stage as their laboratory. Instruments are set up everywhere for them to play, and they’ll record drum loops live to accompany themselves, creating a soundscape that sounds huge, and never leaves you wanting for a full band. Honestly, I thought I’d miss the band arrangements of the records, but their sound is so full and vibrant that I couldn’t imagine them differently.
The set started with “You Get Older” from the new record, sung by the couple huddled over a single microphone. The twangy guitars evoked imaginary western movies, while their voices soared effortlessly, blending perfectly over the quirky riff. “Devil’s Got a Gun” followed (in its French version “Éphémère Sans Repère”), sounding even more majestic than on record. The band then launched into the languorous “Sweet Disaster”, with its hypnotic beat and passionate vocals from Melissa. Luke often addressed the crowd in perfect French, the result of years of immersion school in Halifax as a child. He played his guitar with passion, and as far as I’m concerned, he deserves the title of guitar hero; not because of the number of notes he plays, but because he plays the right ones, and knows which ones not to play.
Many songs were started with the duo building a loop that would be used as backing track: Luke would play a drum beat, adding elements on each pass, while Melissa would add vocals or keyboards. She played guitar and bass throughout the show, letting Luke take the instrumental spotlight but all the while laying down impeccable rhythms that provided the musical foundation for the songs. Her voice was at its goosebump-inducing best when she ventured into blues territory, like on their magnificient interpretation of “Passenger 24” from their self-titled debut.
It’s hard to pick highlights from a set that was so exceptional, but “Baby What’s Wrong”, “Tame as the Wild Ones” and the set closer “Jane” were all great moments. The pair came back for an encore, offering a stunning version of “Un Canadien Errant”, ending the evening with a cover of Tom Waits’ “Gun Street Girl”. We could have listened to another hour with no problem. Simply brilliant.
The opening act was Mentana, playing as a duo for the occasion. Singer/guitarist Robin-Joël Cool’s voice resides halfway between the rough and clean, in a sweet spot that’s pretty interesting. With his wife Viviane Audet on keyboards and vocals (and their unborn baby tagging along), the pair sang charming folk songs that conquered the crowd. Standing out was “Where Are You”, based on a poem by the Innu writer Joséphine Bacon that deals with the disappearances of native women. Check out their EP on Bandcamp.
For my interview with Whitehorse’s Luke Doucet, click here.