• Whitehorse images by Melissa Bobbitt

    The Hotel Cafe was gently invaded from the North on an unsuspecting Saturday. Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland took their musical collaboration known as Whitehorse and steamrolled the mellow Hollywood venue. Their intricate layering of yelps, fuzzy slide guitar and pots-and-pans percussion smothered the locale like a cartoon ACME anvil. Some in the audience were left seeing stars (a flotilla of middle-aged women toward the back who kept prattling, "I'm so stoned!"). And some weren't sure what just hit them.

    Between a smoky cover of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm on Fire" and the busy clanging of "No Glamour in the Hammer," the duo excelled on vocal harmonies but seemed scattered when it came to musicianship. Their method of setting their complicated beats was to build a cacophony upon itself and loop it through a recording device. That's all well and good for the studio, but when this Lego-method takes to the stage, it eats up precious performance time. The small, not-quite-attentive crowd didn't know when it was appropriate to clap, as many a song would take its time to fade out and finish-- long after Doucet and McClelland stopped singing.

    On the bright side, this married couple can spin a good yarn. Mr. Whitehorse told the back story of "Mismatched Eyes (Boat Song)" like it was a Stephen King novel. An ill-begotten pleasure cruise they took "started turning into 'The Shining' for us," he explained. His grumbling electric guitar howled against McClelland's tender singing and acoustic picking, like a bellowing hurricane against a dinghy.

    Understandably, part of Whitehorse's appeal is their "us against the world" approach. But it seemed that the twosome's live show would benefit from axillary players. If they sharpened their prep time, they'd be an incredible draw. For now, though, they're doomed to be an also-ran in the increasingly overstuffed country-rock genre.

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