Whitehorse / Cameron Latimer
Rio Theatre, Vancouver BC January 20
There's a lot of puppy left in Cameron Latimer, the 30-year-old singer-songwriter from Ladysmith, BC. Performing songs from a songbook that he had for sale at the merch table, he can play a solid yet understated acoustic guitar. Yet it seemed as if Latimer was too polite to take any serious risks with his guitar or his lyrics, and his voice wasn't the most distinctive. With a little more dirt under his fingernails, gravel in his voice and a chip on his shoulder, though, he may soon distinguish himself.
This show almost didn't happen for Whitehorse, the husband and wife team of Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland. Doucet was wicked sick, and only mustered the strength to continue thanks to regular doses of NeoCitran, to which McClelland coaxed the audience with, "Let's hear it for drugs!" Though his illness occasionally showed, making the learning process for the relatively new creative partnership obvious, Doucet put on a strong face and pulled off a commendable performance.
Doucet can play a mean guitar live. He attacks his arsenal of axes with the conviction of a bear separated from its cub, proving his Juno and Polaris Music Prize nominations were well earned. McClelland was no slouch either, matching Doucet's virtuosity with her powerful vocals. They are individually talented, but what made them special was their chemistry.
The duo were a little roughness around the edges, yet always completely there for one another. Every time Doucet would do his thing, laying down nasty riffs and choice picking, not to mention teasing out the twang with his whammy bar, she would be glowing, looking at him with resolute joy and passion, a deeply felt smile plastered across her face. They fleshed out their sound with looping pedals and random noise makers, keeping the variety of timbres fresh and rhythms strong, with Doucet often pumping out the icky thump on a kick drum and McClelland stomping her foot in time.
Whitehorse performed as just the two of them, all except for one song; Doucet's daughter came out of the crowd for "Jolene," and did an admirable job filling the shoes of Dolly Parton. Whitehorse also covered the Bruce Springsteen hit "I'm on Fire" as it appears on their debut EP, with a twist ending from "At Last" in tribute to recently deceased R&B legend Etta James.
For the most part, though, they performed their new material and collaborative reworkings of their individual catalogues, receiving a standing ovation at the end of their set. They capped it all off splendidly by performing McClelland's "When the Lights Went Off in Hogtown" unplugged while walking around the audience in the dark for their encore, easily earning another ovation.
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