Review: Polished Duo Whitehorse Draws Crowd to EP Release
Article Kenneth Gibson.
Whitehorse are a musical duo consisting of husband and wife Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland, currently based in Toronto but originally from the metamorphosing (in some ways), former industrial town of Hamilton, Ontario. It’s a place that I, up until quite recently, called home.
A friend talked to me about Whitehorse before, recommended their music – they had a song called “No Glamour in the Hammer,” she said. She thought it was clever. I hadn’t bothered to seek them out because I unfortunately, but respectfully, did not trust her taste in music. This was an oversight on my part.
Whitehorse performed an early show at Verre Bouteille during a cinq à sept. I was clearly in the minority, having known nothing of the group before that night. The bar was packed with people who were noticeably fans, not just passing through for a cold one.
Whitehorse’s sound is a cohesive and tightly polished mix of blues guitar and keyboards with some country swagger thrown in. Added to this are subtle backing tracks of percussion and treated vocals, largely created live on stage through looping equipment, foot-stomps, a kick drum and various kinds of microphones including telephone receivers for that modern anomie aesthetic. Percussion is clearly not an afterthought for this group.
On the night they pulled all this off to perfection, running about the stage madly, executing various elements; they are obviously a very well rehearsed act. One does wonder, though, if a backing band is in their future. The levels and mixing in the venue were quite good. Luke’s crunchy blues guitar sound rang out clearly, vocals rose above it all, percussion pierced sharply but was not overbearing. Melissa had the perfect voice for singing country-tinged music.
The show was one of only two (the other is in Halifax) to promote their new EP Éphémère Sans Repère, their first release in the French language. They played it in its entirety sans Le Cadeau (a soaring little number) and threw in some of their older Anglo tracks. This was also the primary topic of their stage banter. Their desire to sing in French began when they recorded the traditional French-Canadian song Un Canadien Errant (also on the EP) for a movie soundtrack, they informed us. They also informed us that they are with child and that it was conceived in Quebec. Their music, then, is perhaps not the only thing they’ve rehearsed well, as all of this came off as fairly orchestrated pandering to their new-found Francophone audience. I don’t want to be too uncharitable, however, as they did genuinely put their all into the performance and delivered a high-energy show. If you are into this kind of new, hip blues-country-with-attitude Canadiana sort of thing I would recommend checking them out when the roll back through town.
Whitehorse performed April 9, 2014 at Verre Bouteille.