I don’t remember how I first came across the Toronto-based, husband-wife duo Whitehorse. At this point, all I know is that I discovered them before my transition to Spotify, but it wasn’t until the release of their most recent album, Panther in the Dollhouse, that I really delved into their music. On this album, they’ve added a few electronic elements, but only on a few songs. For the most part, this band has stayed true to its folk-rock label.
Having never been to Petit Campus for a rock concert before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The crowd’s median age was much older than the college-age kids that usually populate Café and Petit Campus, which I took as a good sign. I’ve always loved small venues for the intimate feeling of seeing each chord that a guitarist plays or seeing the actual movement of the vocal chords as a singer sings my favorite lyrics. You don’t get that in MTELUS, even in the front row.
The night began with Terra Lightfoot, a Hamilton-based vocalist and guitarist, whose smooth mezzo-soprano voice amazed me on the first note. It was completely unique, but I kept trying to associate it with another female rock singer with that distinctive bluesy quality to her voice. Although Janis Joplin and Bonnie Rait might be categorized by that description, both have very different textures. She played an amazing set of power ballads off her new record New Mistakes, including songs like “Stars over Dakota,” “Slick Back Kid,” and “You Get High.” My personal favorites of the set was her performance of “Two Hearts,” which was slower and had a classic 50s guitar strum and drum beat. She finished her set with “Hold You,” which was upbeat and fun way.
Whitehorse walked out to a rock version of Henry Mancini’s “Pink Panther Theme,” which was a fantastic choice. I was surprised to see a full band walk out and that they’ve moved away from live looping, but I think it added a lot to the classic rock ‘n’ roll feel of the show. The first song they played was “Baby What’s Wrong?” And I was struck again by how amazing the vocalists were, especially Melissa McClelland.
Next, I heard the distinctive first notes of the track “Nighthawks” start playing, catching me completely by surprise. It wasn’t because I didn’t expect to hear the song, but because I never would have guessed that this band, which had prided itself on playing each part live, would use a pre-recorded track. However, when the instruments came in, the track faded into the background.
They introduced the next song as “a song about space travel,” which is something I never associated with my favorite Whitehorse song “Sweet Disaster.” It is definitely one of the songs that I most closely associate with their new retro sound maybe because the introduction sounds a little bit like “Time of the Season” by The Zombies. “Achilles’ Desire” also had that retro sound. Luke Doucet’s voice took center stage as a classic rock voice, straight out of 1966.
One of the most fun songs of the night was “Manitoba Death Star,” which is the first song that they used the landline phone microphones to create a muffled, treble voice. It was so refreshing to see that sort of ingenuity in music in a time where most effects can be created with a click of a button. They continued with “Boys Like You” and “Epitaph In Tongues” before the band left, and McClelland and Doucet played a couple of acoustic songs. After ”Boat Song,” they played what was by far the crowd favorite of the night, “Éphémère sans Repère.”
The highlights of the night were their covers of Chuck Berry’s “Nadine,” Neil Young’s “Ohio” and their performance of their song “Kicking Down Your Door,” a song about refugees and the struggles they face in today’s society. It seemed like most of their songs had a political or social message, from “Boys Like You,” which McClelland introduced as a song about men like Harvey Weinstein, to “Evangelina,” a song about the rights of sex workers. The band had chosen a different Canadian charity to support for each show of their tour, and they used “Evangelina” to promote Stella, Montréal, which supports and defends the rights of sex workers. This was yet another aspect of their music that I found refreshing.
Whitehorse put on an amazing, no-nonsense, classic rock show in a venue that was made for it. At one point, Melissa McClelland commented about how nice it was to play in a “stuffy, hot, sweaty” rock club after playing in so many theatres. Their music is the epitome of new retro sound: it’s refreshing in its elements that harken back to an age when the question was not if a musician would “go electronic,” but whether they would “go electric.”
Review – Rhodes Ford
Photos – Arianne Bergeron