Wednesday, August 17, 2011
"How does this one go again?" Luke Doucet was worried about starting a band with wife, Melissa McClelland at first, he said. Giving over your words to someone else? Messing with your lyrics? What if they're not good? How do you tell your wife you don't like what she wrote? "Fortunately she came back and had included two of my favourite albums by two of my favourite artists ever." With Blood On The Tracks and Let It Bleed affirming the partnership, Doucet's song "Broken One" was only one of a large handful of songs both he and McClelland have written and recorded over the years that found new life through Whitehorse at the Casbah Lounge last night.
With keys, bass, a stomp box, kick drum and a looping pedal, the duo built layers of rhythm and texture into their typically pluck and strum sets for the first of two rehearsal nights at the Hamilton venue, prior to their fall tours with first, Frazey Ford and then, Stuart McLean's Vinyl Cafe. "This was supposed to be a rehearsal gig with like 2 to 4 people here," said McClelland. "But then I was at my dentist today and he asked me about it." Word had spread and we tangled tightly amongst each other in the sweaty confinement of the lounge, leaning on every wall, sitting in every seat, or cross-legged right in front of the stage; a mixed crowd of old and young, family, friends, strangers.
It started with comfortable versions of Doucet's "Cleveland" from Blood's Too Rich (Six Shooter, 2008) and McClelland's "Go Down Matthew" from Thumbelina's One Night Stand (Orange, 2006) before moving into the first Whitehorse track "Killing Time Is Murder." We had been given the heads up that these gigs were to work out the kinks. The tech was new, looping new. A nervous energy pervaded the room as the track built up. Doucet in a cowboy hat and plaid, legs bowed saddle style and his right foot stomped out the kick drum pace; McClelland's tanned leather boots snapped back in response on the hardwood box beneath her feet, the loop pedal capturing the beat as she twisted her toes inward and dug her hips into the song's stomp/clap rhythm and dark harmonies. As if superstitiously holding our breath through a tunnel, we cheered, emerging on the other side, able to breath and relax.
The rest of the set followed suit. Anxious smiles, relieved smiles, McClelland and Doucet exchanging glances. Pausing mid-song to remember lyrics, or re-work a mis-timed loop; the audience glowing and radiating awe and captivation, in on the fun and the fuck ups. The two worked well off each other's talents; Doucet's impossibly fast hands producing cavernous, reverberant notes from his Gretsch, McClelland's careful acoustic strumming providing the horizon for reference and a way home through "Glenrio," "Emerald Isle" (another new song), "Mitzi's" from Doucet's 2001 album Aloha Manitoba, and McClelland's "Passenger 24."
Like couples do, they shared too much at times; Doucet built camaraderie by embarrassing his wife. "This next one is by a guy who's on my wife's 'list'." "Too much information! And he's way too old for me." The reply before Springsteen's "I'm On Fire." Doucet's revelation giving the song an unintended infidelitous subtext as McClelland sang "... tell me now baby is he good to you, can he do to you the things that I do." With a finale of "Broken One" and "Long Haul Driver," instantly recognizable tracks from Doucet's back catalogue, we disentwined and scattered. Whitehorse undoubtedly adds to Doucet and McClelland's live performance. I had seen the song-trading, guitar only approach before, and though captivating due to the enormous talents of each artist, never achieved this potency. Stomp away, Whitehorse.
Catch Whitehorse again on August 30 @ The Casbah Lounge, Hamilton (Free) or on any of their other tour dates from now through to Halloween: http://www.whitehorsemusic.ca/tour.html
Listen to "Killing Time Is Murder" on their website (http://www.whitehorsemusic.ca/index.html) or, grab the album Whitehorse on iTunes (August 30th release for other formats).
Set List (First recorded by, Album, Year)
Cleveland (Doucet, Blood's Too Rich, 2008)
Go Down Matthew (McClelland, Thumbelina's One Night Stand, 2006)
Killing Time Is Murder (Whitehorse, Whitehorse, 2011)
Glen Rio (McClelland, Victoria Day, 2009)
Emerald Isle (Whitehorse, Whitehorse, 2011)
Mitzi's (Doucet, Aloha Manitoba, 2001)
Passenger 24 (McClelland, Thumbelina's One Night Stand, 2006)
I'm On Fire (Springsteen, Born in The U.S.A., 1985)
Broken One (Doucet, Broken, 2005)
Long Haul Driver (Doucet, Fokestar EP, 2006)