Whitehorse: Live in Guelph, ON


The arrival of a global pandemic took most of us by surprise in early 2020, and brought plenty of trepidation as it uprooted life as we knew it. Sadly, some did not find safe passage through this deadly storm, and for many of us, we experienced not only culture shock, but were impacted economically too. During that period, I made frequent references in my GDW editorials to how the music community struggled to survive – their livelihood deemed virtually irrelevant, and their revenues dried up as studios closed, venues closed, and tours were cancelled. This was a dark period indeed for the liberal arts.

For folk-rock band Whitehorse – the husband/wife duo of Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland (who had relocated to Winnipeg during this catastrophe) – the pandemic was not only disruptive, but left them dealing with the implications of lost revenue and the uncertainty of when this all would pass. Having moved back to Ontario this year, the duo not only announced their full Ontario spring tour, but were more than eager to show their fans what they had created during the mandatory reset.  Making a stop at The Royal City Mission in Guelph to perform a solid 95-minute show (joined by Johnny Overseen on drums), Whitehorse brought their A-game … and then some.


“Hello, how are you? It’s been a long time, a long time. We’re loving this tour,” Melissa (bass/acoustic guitar/vocals) announced. “We spent the last year living in Winnipeg. Which was, great!” Pausing to savor the merriment brought on by her facial expression alone, she would seal her statement, “Lovely!”  “Come on, tell us what you really think,” joked Luke (guitars/vocals). “He’s a Winnipeg boy, he grew up in Winnipeg. It was a hard sell for me, but I fell in love with Winnipeg,” Melissa responded. “But I’m really happy to be back in Ontario, and we are playing every nook and cranny of Southern Ontario right now. In the spring. And it’s just … I’m in love with it.”

Pausing for the applause, Luke would pick up the thread once more. “I think when you travel across Canada, people talk a lot about where they’re from … but what I find is consistent across the country, no matter where you go, people have a soft spot for the underdog. That’s a little Canadian value we tend to hold, no matter where we are, which I think is a pretty cool thing, so when you come from an underdog town, you have to talk it up,” he shared. “Winnipeg, I have a lot of family there. It’s a fun, beautiful place. Strangely, the winters are fabulous. I know you think I’m kidding, but I’m actually not. The sky is an incredible blue, and the ground has this impossible, fluffy white snow, and it’s pretty fantastic.” “But it’s SO FUCKING COLD,” Melissa added with impeccable timing, laughter bouncing throughout the room. “It’s a dry cold,” Luke retorted, his last half-hearted attempt to convince us otherwise.

As for the pandemic, being prolific songwriters, Melissa and Luke buckled down in their home and pushed their creativity – writing, recording, and releasing three albums in the span of two years. And for those in attendance at one of these spring tour shows, if you figured on hearing mostly new material, you were in for a rude awakening, as Whitehorse came out and delivered hit after hit from their lengthy back catalogue.  Digging deep to open the show with “Killing Time Is Murder” from their self-titled debut album, Melissa’s thumping bass lines that would follow signaled the arrival of “Baby What’s Wrong,” the first of several cuts from their popular 2016 “Leave No Bridge Unburned” album. Just two songs in, it was plain to see how badly the duo wanted to do this – Melissa’s haunting, eerie cries accentuated by the excellent acoustics offered by this old church, and Luke’s unrelenting workout given to his signature ‘White Falcon’ Gretsch guitar. Only a brief pause would follow before transitioning seamlessly into “Devil’s Got a Gun,” closed with a stunning final vocal refrain that brought on an all-out assault of goosebumps.


Returning to their “Leave No Bridge Unburned” material, Luke shared a tale about the opportunity to work with esteemed producer Gus Van Go on this record. “We sent him 25 or 30 songs, and were feeling pretty good about ourselves for being so prolific, and he rejected ALL of them,” he commenced. “That was a little hard on the ego, so we rewrote some of the songs. He didn’t like the songs, he thought they were too happy. So, we wrote a bunch of sad songs, and he said that’s great but there’s something missing. We need one song whose only function is to be sexy, that’s all.”  “So, I kicked everyone out of the room and said that I’m gonna do this one on my own,” Melissa interjected, pausing for laughter. “It’s much easier that way. I wrote the song in one go, and I played it for Luke later that evening … and nine months later to the day, our son Jimi was born.”

The emotionally-charged performance of “Tame as the Wild Ones” that followed was amazing to experience, with an unforgettable brief a cappella moment that demonstrated their powerful vocals, before yielding to Luke’s hard hammering on the guitar once more. “The last time we played here, I forgot the lyrics of the second verse of that song, and someone up on the balcony looked up the lyrics for me and ‘shhh’d’ it,” Melissa recalled. “It was like Romeo and Juliet. He was shouting the lyrics at me and he saved me. Is he here tonight? Romeo, Romeo? Oh, he didn’t come back.”  “Calm down with this Romeo bullshit,” Luke joked. “Just kidding. Bring it. Bring it.”

After showering the room with so many popular cuts, Whitehorse would naturally shift to their latest material. “So, I know it’s been a quiet few years, but Luke and I wrote and recorded and released three records in the last two years,” Melissa explained. “The first of those records is called Modern Love, and we like to think of it as our truest Whitehorse collaboration to date. I think [that] when people imagine how we write songs it’s a lot different than how we usually write. We’re very separate. We go to opposite corners of the house, I write my songs, he writes his songs, and then we play all these songs for each other and choose which songs we want. It does obviously become a collaboration, but we thought why not this time do it from the ground up and write songs the way Whitehorse fans imagine we write songs. By candlelight, with a bottle of wine and two guitars.”  “No pants,” added Luke, earning laughter once more. “I mean, who wore pants the last two years?”


While all three of the recent Whitehorse albums make very worthy additions to a record collection, it is their most recent 2023 “I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying” release that stands out for me. I love the vintage country music sound from the late 1960s and early 1970s, and must admit to being very pleasantly surprised that the duo chose this genre for this particular recording. “So, this past January we put out a country record,” Melissa announced. “This was the first six months of lockdown that we wrote this one, and we spent those first few weeks just pacing the halls of our house trying to figure out what life was and what was happening. And then John Prine passed away, and made everything very real. We dug into our LP collection and were listening to a ton of John Prine, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, and then Kenny Rogers passed away, and we were listening to him and Dolly [Parton], and Tammy [Wynette] and George [Jones], and we were obsessing over a certain era of country music.”

Delivering several cuts from this album, the slow, crooning sound of “Leave Me As You Found Me” touched on the sounds of vintage Loretta Lynn, while the up-tempo “If The Loneliness Don’t Kill Me” had plenty of that George and Tammy attitude. “We would put our son Jimi to bed at night, and I would go off to bed, and Luke would go down to the kitchen and open a bottle of wine and listen to those records,” Melissa reminisced. “Every morning I would wake up and pick up my phone and find a voice memo demo of a song that he had written at three in the morning at the kitchen table, and these songs were beautiful and poignant, and they were of this weird time and place that we were all going through. I quickly got on board and shifted into that headspace and started doing some writing of my own.”

Returning to their earlier material once more, and delivering an amazingly potent version of “Die Alone” from their 2017 “Panthers in the Dollhouse” album, both Luke’s unreal guitar skills and Melissa’s prolonged closing notes at the end propelled this song into the stratosphere. “We want to thank you guys, because oh, how we’ve missed live music,” Melissa offered after soaking up the applause. “We’re feeling it deep in our core right now, and just to see your faces and feel the energy back and forth. Thank you.”

After taking a temporary hiatus for the pre-encore theatrics, Luke and Melissa returned to share their beautiful harmonies around a solo microphone once more, delivering “6 Feet Away” from the latest album. “Alright, if it were up to us, we’d just play all night, even if you guys all left” Luke acknowledged. “So, thanks for not leaving, because we missed this.” And, with time for one closing number, and with Johnny returning to the drums, the band would bring out not only their good friend (and opening artist) Neville Quinlan (NQ Arbuckle), but a certain blond haired young man to play keys. “Give it up for Jimi Parker McClelland-Doucet,” Luke offered, welcoming their son to the stage. With Luke’s encouragement alongside him, and with Melissa’s mile-wide smile as she witnessed their son perform, Jimi showed no signs of butterflies, and did a phenomenal job – the five musicians collectively sending us home with a rousing cover of the timeless Gordon Lightfoot hit, “Sundown.”

Set List:

  1. Killing Time Is Murder
  2. Baby What’s Wrong
  3. Devil’s Got A Gun
  4. Liar Liar
  5. Sweet Disaster
  6. Emerald Isle
  7. Nighthawks
  8. I Wanna Make Promises (That I Can’t Keep)
  9. Tame As The Wild Ones
  10. Division 5
  11. Leave Me As You Found Me
  12. Bet The Farm
  13. Manitoba Bound
  14. If The Loneliness Don’t Kill Me
  15. Die Alone
  16. Please, Maria
  17. Broken


  1. 6 Feet Away
  2. Sundown (ft. Neville Quinlan & Jimi Parker McClelland-Doucet) (Gordon Lightfoot cover)

The British guy that crossed the ocean and crash landed in central Pennsylvania (to quote Greg Keelor, “And I wonder what am I doing here?”). As the youngest of four siblings, exposure to music from a very early age nurtured my passion and appreciation for many musical genres. Continuing to discover some amazingly diverse and talented musicians based in Canada, I gravitate to live music experiences and remain devoted to spreading the word about such a vibrant music scene.

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