Concert Reviews

Whitehorse with Sun K at The Danforth Music Hall

Photographs by Randall Vasquez.

It was an unseasonably warm December night in Toronto – warmth that could be felt both outside and inside the Danforth Music Hall.  Whitehorse was home.

The duo of Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland, both accomplished solo singer-songwriters, have been collaborating and meshing their worlds for a long time.  Married since 2006, in time, they joined forces and formed Whitehorse.   After a solid year of touring to support their third full length album, Leave No Bridge Unburned – a tour that saw them play historic Massey Hall twice – they found themselves back in Toronto with a room full of fans.  

Local band, Sun K, opened the night with a 40-minute set.  The room filled up steadily as their up-tempo rock tunes beckoned people in from the lobby.  The five young musicians were clearly pumped to be playing in front of their biggest crowd yet.

By the time Whitehorse walked out, like musical gunslingers, the room was full. Doucet and McClelland took their folky, bluesy, Americana sound and twisted it to form a familiar, yet unexpected live show.   Multi-instrumentalists, they creatively employed loop pedals to build and flesh out their music.  The result was a brilliant mix – old Wild West meets modern indie pop.  

In their 90 minutes on stage, Whitehorse played with arrangements and sonic embellishments to pleasing affect.  Indeed, the entire show was playful.  From the staging, wherein the two band members leapt and scurried from one instrument to the next, to the use of a vintage mic sounds, to covers of Beck and Tom waits songs – Doucet and McClelland seemed to be having fun.  

McClelland commented that in four years of performing as Whitehorse, it has only ever been the two of them on stage.  They are very protective of that set-up.  On this night however, they let several others into the playhouse.   The first surprise of the night came, when Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay from July Talk joined them on stage.  They sounded great and you had to wonder why Whitehorse doesn’t do guest collaborations more often.   The lovefest continued later in the evening when Tanya Tagaq, the Polaris Prize winning throat singer from Nunavut, came to sing the last part of Devil’s Got a Gun.  It was an eclectic fusion of deep South and far North.

Later, before launching into Downtown, a song written in the wake of the Toronto mayoral spectacle of a few years back, Doucet pointed out that being home in Toronto was special.  Toronto is diverse and the Whitehorse audience is too; it spans age, gender and race.  At the end of the song in a seemingly unscripted moment, Doucet shouted out to a young East-end Toronto guitarist named Sam Taylor, inviting him to come up on stage to play.  Taylor made his way down from the balcony, clearly floating on air, another in a series of touching moments.  

Whitehorse ended the evening with a two song encore during which one last guest appeared, Doucet’s father, also a professional musician.  The crowd left filled with good music and good cheer – perfectly fitting the unseasonably warm December night in Toronto.

About author

From folk to pop to punk, Neloufer believes that music matters; that it is almost as vital as oxygen. She also has a deep love of language, et voilà! - music reviewer.