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Guest Blog: A Look At Whitehorse – By Ed Taylor

In this week’s guest blog, Ed takes a look at Whitehorse, the band who will be opening for Barenaked Ladies on their Fall US tour.Whitehorse2bar“Americana – just like Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, and The Band”

When it comes to Barenaked Ladies tours, any news is good news. However, the announcement that these concerts would be “with special guests Whitehorse” was truly the icing on the cake.

The story of how Whitehorse came into being is a strange one. Luke Doucet was lead guitarist in the Vancouver indie rock band Veal and a producer on the side, when his first solo album, about breaking up with his girlfriend, was released. Melissa McClelland started out writing and singing blues and jazz-tinged Americana. They are also both part of Sarah McLachlan’s regular touring band. Luke produced most of Melissa’s solo albums, and Melissa is a guest performer on many of Luke’s solo works. They married in 2009, however it was only in 2011 that they decided to officially form a band together.

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Whitehorse have, in a way, been on the periphery of the BNL world for some time. Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland, as they used to be known, were part of Ships N Dips V in February 2009. I seem to recall seeing a Youtube clip of Melissa on a

songwriters’ panel explaining Luke’s absence by telling everyone he was “doing something that didn’t require his balls”. Later that year, I saw Luke and Melissa live at the Maze in Nottingham, a venue that only holds about 100 people. Last year, I saw them at the same venue in their new guise as Whitehorse.

Whitehorse carry the badge of honour that comes with being on the Six Shooter Records label (motto: “life is too short to listen to sh***y music”) – all Six Shooter acts past and present have had the personal approval of the label president, combining great songwriting with great live concerts. However, the transition from Doucet & McClelland to Whitehorse has seen these live performances augmented with a bass drum, multiple effects pedals, and earpieces in lieu of monitors. The concert I saw came soon after Whitehorse released their eponymous EP, and pre-dated their album. As such, the setlist was the EP in its entirety and some old favourites from both of their solo oeuvres.

The show I saw started off in a very low-key fashion, with the duo singing an a cappella version of their bittersweet duet Night Owls sharing a single microphone. This was followed up with Killing Time Is Murder, sung in harmony under cacophonous cymbals and punctuating bass drum.

The first of the old favourite songs was Glenrio, from Melissa’s Victoria Day, was the third song, and a change of pace from the previous number, and another classic, Luke’s epic Cleveland came next. Inspired by attending a concert and sitting next to a man who insisted on telling inappropriately personal stories, Cleveland was nominated by author Nick Hornby as one of his tracks of 2008.

After this, Whitehorse returned to their newer material. Emerald Isle, from the EP, is inspired by Luke’s hobby, marathon running, and the guitar parts are reminiscent of The Shadows. Then came a reworking of Bruce Springsteen’s I’m On Fire. The Whitehorse version is slower and more countrified (the studio version features a pedal steel) than the original, and somehow seems to take all of the creepy undertones out of the lyrics.

The seventh song of the night was Broken One, or “the ex-girlfriend song”. Just as they took The Boss’s song and made it their own, at Melissa’s insistence they wrote a new version together of the track that is most symbolic of the demise of Luke’s previous relationship.

After this came a brief interlude for some cookery. Well, not quite, but out of their box of tricks came some pots, pans and wooden spoons that they used to record a multi-layered percussion loop to use in the song Mitzi’s, a garage rock-inspired track featuring quiet verses and loud, intricate guitar passages in between. This was followed by Monkeys, a song that tackles a philosophical conundrum by dressing it up in somewhat offbeat imagery, against an indie-rock backdrop. Out of all the Whitehorse tracks, perhaps this is the one many Barenaked Ladies fans can appreciate most.

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The tenth song of the set was Long Haul Driver, the opening track on Luke’s second solo album. This is a good, old-fashioned foot stomper with an incredibly catchy blues and classic rock-inspired lead guitar line, and lyrics telling the tale of the loneliness that accompanies life on the road. Skyway Bridge, the penultimate song of the main set, was a chance for everyone to catch their breath before the big finish.

The setup to the big finish was Passenger 24, another in the vein of Long Haul Driver, but this time recounting the time Melissa spent travelling across North America on Greyhound buses and invoking some of the interesting characters she encountered. Again, there is an incredible grungy and garage rock guitar solo and a pounding bass drum you can’t help but tap your foot and nod your head in time to. When the finale came, it was an old favourite, a cover of the Tom Waits song Gun Street Girl. Like their rendition of I’m On Fire, Whitehorse have taken good care of this song but have really made it their own, culminating in some frenzied guitar shredding by Luke.

After the break, in the encore, was a highlight moment of the night. On her Victoria Day album, Melissa recorded a song called When the Lights Went Off In Hogtown, inspired by the power outage that led to a blackout in Toronto and throughout Ontario in 2003, leaving many without power for up to two days. To replicate the atmosphere, all the lights went off (apart from the emergency exit signs of course), all the instruments were unplugged, and the band wandered into the crowd to play the song (Luke was stood right next to me for it, fan boy moment). Once the lights came back on in Nottingham, we were treated to an airing of Mexico Texaco, from their (at the time) forthcoming album.

So what can BNL fans expect to hear when Whitehorse take the stage? Well, to borrow a line from one of Luke’s songs that I have often used to sum up my own musical tastes, “something with a little grit, a few legends and a beat to move to”. Whitehorse have at various points described themselves, with tongue in cheek, as “Americana, just like Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, and The Band”, and these influences have shaped the Whitehorse sound. There will be high quality songwriting in genres ranging from indie/alternative to roots/Canadiana to folk and country; they will take in the full range of emotions; there will probably be some unusual percussion and some of the best guitar playing you’ve ever seen and heard; above all, there will be an incredible harmony on stage, the sort that can only come from people who love music as much as they love each other.

I can’t make any guess as what songs Whitehorse will play in the short time they have on stage in support of Barenaked Ladies, but I hope what you have just read gives you some idea that there will be an incredibly talented band playing great songs. I only wish I could be there with you to enjoy it too.

– Ed Quoth the Raven

Thanks Ed for a great overview of Whitehorse! Would you like to write for Get Barenaked? Email us: liam@getbarenaked.net

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