There’s Nothing Like the First Time

Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland set the tone early, cutting through the Commodore crowd chatter with “Killing Time Is Murder”, one of their rawest compositions (off 2011’s self-titled effort), promptly followed up with the hip-swaying “No Glamour in the Hammer”, which bops with the cadence of a creeping cat burglar.

The duo known as Whitehorse were the only two musicians on stage, surrounded by a few extra guitars, some keys, and a wide array of percussion instruments. My initial reaction at the absence of a full band was disappointment, though this quickly gave way to surprised approval, as I couldn’t help but be drawn in at the couple’s versatility – Luke on guitar, then keys, then looping beats; Melissa from songstress to bassist to guitarist; the two of them singing, achieving an impeccable balance of vocals and feeling.

Whitehorse released The Fate of the World Depends on this Kiss in 2012, building on the buzz of Whitehorse (2011). I’ve only been in Vancouver for just over a year and one of my favourite stories tied to this city is how Whitehorse’s latest album was christened when the two went to the Templeton on Granville St. after a recording session and noticed a postcard of an old Wonder Woman comic under a glass tabletop with those newly famous words. How’s that for a bit of recent rock’n’roll history?

photo by Arielle Moog

The theme of weathered country troubadours and dusty ramblers kept on, as “Radiator Blues” (“You’ve got those far away eyes, baby, far away eyes…”) morphed into a jam of “Who Do You Love?”, followed by “Wisconsin”. The next, “Emerald Isle”, showcased Doucet and McClelland at their finest, one’s voice complimenting the other’s like only a musical lover’s can. As much as I pine for Doucet’s long-gone days of piss’n’vinegar bachelorhood, the Johnny and June spark between these two seems to be growing steadily, tour by tour and album by album, making the prospect of what lies ahead in their musical future just as exciting as any past work.

Just as the love-bugs were buzzing around the two, backlit by the soft glow of a moon that exists only in songs and stories, Whitehorse played the excellent “Broken”, plucked from Doucet’s career-making Broken (And Other Rogue States) (2005):

   One day you’re gonna miss me
One day you’re gonna wake up cold
Then you’ll wish that you could kiss me
When you’re old and you’re alone

   So cry if you want to
Yeah, you can come undone
But you’ve got to have a heart to have a broken one

See what I mean? The song, once a whiskey-fueled middle finger to a former love, now takes on a different shape. The heat and bitterness have washed away, and old wounds have been tended to by new love.

The bass of “Annie Lu” rumbled the very foundations of the Ballroom, enough to prompt a nearby fan to comment playfully – “I think my pacemaker just broke.” Doucet and McClelland were breaking hearts left and right, real and imagined.

The two knocked out song after song, some spiked with Doucet’s rusty yet smooth guitar-playing, others gently painted with McClelland’s dreamy voice; “Out Like A Lion”, “Achilles’ Desire”, “Passenger 24”, “Jane”, closing out the night with Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” to the delight of many.

“It’s pretty fantastic to finally be up here,” said Doucet, commenting on the special (yet sometimes forgotten) place the Commodore Ballroom holds in the hearts of fans and performers alike. He told the story of when he (22 at the time) brought his younger brother, 13, to his very first concert. It was 1995 and it was the Foo Fighters. His story of a treasured first time forced me to pause, thinking of the here and the now, with a beer in my hand and a pretty girl by my side, witnessing Doucet’s first performance at the Commodore.

“I don’t have much, but I got the good stuff,” Luke Doucet sings in “Achilles’ Desire”.

Good stuff, indeed.

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Another thing to note about Whitehorse’s current tour is Melissa McClelland’s effort to spread the word and raise funds for Ladybird Animal Sanctuary, an initiative headed by Janine Stoll, Lisa Winn and McClelland. Based in Hamilton, Ontario, the Sanctuary focuses on rescuing animals from high-kill shelters and finding them permanent, loving homes. The group has helped save 135 animals since January 2011 and are constantly working to add to that total. Check out the Ladybird Animal Sanctuary website for more information and to donate.

Ladybird Animal Sanctuary is currently involved in The Animal Rescue Site $100,000 Shelter Challenge. Vote for Ladybird and help them win resources to help them further their mission of finding pets new homes.