Whitehorse and the seething pit of bile
While my FB status says I saw NQ Arbuckle last night, I didn’t. I saw Whitehorse at the National Arts Centre as part of their NAC Presents series. And I am disgusted by the complete (compleat?) act of entertainment I was forced to endure.
So you’ve got Luke Doucet. One of the best guitarists in Canada. And Melissa McClelland, who I only had the opportunity to see once before, when the Ottawa Folk Festival resembled a giant mud-wrestling match and she and Luke were working with Blue Rodeo.
And you’ve got a stage filled with:
9 guitars (Luke: Gretsch White Falcon, a number of Telecasters, what looked like a vintage Gibson acoustic, and some small-bodied acoustic which was totally unfamiliar to me; Melissa, an acoustic, a sweet-sounding double-cutaway hollowbody that I didn’t recognize, and a Fender short-scale bass)
A kick-drum and a floor tom
A djembe, shakers, pots, pans, an old kettle,
And enough looping pedals and cables to choke a giant squid.
With picks, with mallets, with sticks, with hands, with slides, the two of them create, repeat, and sing giant sediments of sound with the inevitability of a landslide.
This was a pair of superb musicians working at the top of their game. Did they swagger as they strutted the stage of the NAC Theatre? Yup. And they shoulda. Melissa strapped on her white bass and swaggered, knowing she was the one anchoring this dirigible of music to the ground, the only thing preventing it from shooting uncontrolled into the atmosphere. Luke swaggered to the front of the stage, pointing a finger to the sky like Babe Ruth pointing beyond the left-field fence, and knocking guitar-hero homers out of the park one after the other. Then he swaggered back to the amps to tease feedback out. Then the pair swagger to a condenser mic stage front to face each other and sing in unison or harmony, as if the fate of the world depends on that mic.
Luke: whippet-thin, fresh off a 2nd-place finish in a half-marathon (WHILE ON TOUR), looking vaguely Woody Guthrie-ish in a rolled-up shirt and jeans, with a voice that’s got a touch of harshness and a touch of whispery goodness. Melissa: in a filmy dress, asymmetrically hemmed, entirely modest but still sexy nonetheless, possessing a voice that could have overpowered her husband’s and the judgement to know how to avoid that.
The songs? Superbly crafted, built into layer cakes, rich trifles, Jackson Pollocks of sound, slathering instruments one on top of one another and then using the mound of sound like a launching ramp to send each other slingshotting up into the sky, then sticking the landings and bringing us all back to the ground safely.
Want to look for a complete show? How’s this: in the NAC, Luke breaks into French to express his appreciation for the venue and to thank the audience for being there. Or this: on their “Passenger 24”, an extended jam, bringing rhythms in and out to allow them to turn a straight-ahead rocker into a multiple-movement rocksonata. Or this: as part of the encore, the two grab acoustic guitars, unplug, walk to opposite sides of the stage, and walk into the audience to sing Melissa’s “When the lights went off in Hogtown” unplugged. Or this: a lovely song in French as another part of the show. Or this: the dance of boots on pedals, the slipping on and off of instruments with the energy of a lust-induced quickie. Or this: between songs, a plea to help the Ladybird Animal Sanctuary, a rescue operation for dogs and cats that Melissa runs “in her spare time”.
After the show, we were on our way to have post-concert drinks with friends. When we found two of them, one of them said (to a group of eight) “Oh my God, I just want to have sex after that show.” I understood exactly what she meant. Hope that worked out for her. I just came home and destroyed all of my guitars to ensure that they never have to suffer at my ham-like hands again, thanks to the seething pit of bile that only Whitehorse could create.