By Jessica Brodeur
April 9, 2015
VANCOUVER — Watching a band that’s deeply reliant on the loop petal for their beat, backup and build invokes a morose schadenfreude among all fans and audiences. Waiting for the moment that one person chimes in a bar too early, or hits the wrong note could bring a complex song crashing down in an instant, having to re-start the loop. It’s a suspense that creates heightened attention to the stage, and brings the stakes of the live performance way up. So when Luke Doucet kicked off Whitehorse’s Thursday night set at the Commodore with “You Get Older” from the band’s latest album Leave No Bridge Unburned, he did it with a drum beat that looped over itself five-fold, his musical mastery and confidence were outstanding. About half of the songs began at the drum kit while everyone patiently watched the song’s beat and backup vocals form line by line, not unlike watching a painter fill in brush strokes not knowing what the final picture will be until the end.
Whitehorse’s own brand of sultry blues rock is incredibly satisfying in the new album, but it’s even better live with the stolen glances and unspoken communication that these two writers, musicians, and lovebirds spark together. In the instrumental-heavy songs like “Sweet Disaster” and the call-and-answer “Baby What’s Wrong?” the duo’s choreography was just as much a part of the show as the music. The phone-mic (you read that right) is far more unconvincing onstage than it is on the record. The whole joy of using folly tricks is that no one can see them over the radio or album, but on stage the noise-distorting long distance-sounding telephone mic didn’t fool anyone, and it took away from Melissa McClelland’s incomparable voice, but luckily it was used sparingly only throughout the set.
Fans’ anticipation of loop-petal failure was somewhat satisfied in the false start for “No Glamour in the Hammer,” but the gratification was knowing that every city gets a unique show, and the song’s catchy bassline and keyboard riffs stole hearts across the ballroom.
To prove that the duo could still rock the old coffee house singer-songwriter-guitar-wielding duet, they skipped the high tech toys for “Boss Man” an ode of sorts to Rob Ford. Doucet was proud to show off his guitar that a buddy of his had found in an alleyway on West 4th in Kitsilano 15 years earlier, giving the Torontonian tune a Vancouverite voice. The duet stayed instrumentally simple for a few more tunes, including “Broken” and the CBC favourite “Emerald Isle.” It became apparent that they both play to their strengths: Luke on the solos (guitar and drums) and McClelland on her bone-chilling vocals… although Doucet’s vibrato in “No Glamour in the Hammer” was an epically brave move that paid off.
One of the most unexpectedly brilliant moves was changing up the timing a little for “Achilles Desire,” one of their most well-known songs, just enough that fans were no longer able to sing along. They refrained from the musical cheekiness for their newer single “Downtown” which closed off the set with a bang.
The encore was a dance mix of “Jane” which confirmed that Whitehorse have also jumped on the DJ-remix wagon, but they did it with the style and grace that they are known for and completely pulled it off. Don’t be surprised if you hear of Whitehorse touring nightclubs next. The finale, Tom Waits’ “Gun Street Girl” was clearly the highlight for a beaming Luke Doucet. Whitehorse had wisely and craftily turned the tune into a duet, because it’s always best to end a great set with what you do best.BC, British Columbia, Commodore Ballroom, Whitehorse