Ha Ha Tonka - Oh, so this band is named after a state park in their home state of Missouri! With that mystery out of the way, I can focus on the set of music they presented at a crowded Rock'n'Roll Hotel. Drums, bass, electric guitar, with acoustic guitar/lead vocals are the four components of this band. A mandolin is introduced for a few songs and the drummer comes forward to join an a cappella chorus later on. Based on the above clues, I think most readers would guess that we heard a nice set of Americana. Check. However, there were some twists here an there. After the nice opening number which had good electric guitar adding to a classic vocal/acoustic melody, I was thinking how much I would still like to see more bands capture the crazed or deep intensities of Woven Hand, Slim Cessna's Auto Club, or Elliott Brood. And right on cue, the band's second song ripped into all sorts of crazy U-turns from folk to rock to psyche with powerful dynamic shifts. It was a long song and one of the better songs I have heard in some time (almost an epic Roy Harper composition). Alas, they had nothing else quite like that for the rest of the set. Still, aside from some overly simple moments, the rest of the set had some vibrant moments and maintained quality songwriting and earnest delivery. They will be back at some Virgina area shows in July, so you may judge for yourself if you are down that way. Good set, well received.
Langhorne Slim - I learned that he nearly canceled the show and was very much under the weather vocally and in general. That is too bad, as he is one of the more energetic folk-Americana acts working. I have always enjoyed his sets, and he still had plenty to offer tonight. He did apologize for his voice and although you could detect some straining and difficulty, he dealt with it and still delivered. He was just more of grizzled old blues veteran tonight. He had a drummer, a bassist playing both stand-up an electric, and a banjo/keyboardist. Even though I don't have any of his albums, I still recognized a couple of his songs from the two previous shows I have caught in the last 5 years. With all the music I pour into my head, that tells me that this guy has written some great songs. And he mixes up arrangements to make for an enjoyable live show. When the band went to electric bass and keyboards, they kicked into a moving hard rocking number that really offset the acoustic folk songs nicely. It is not at all surprising to see that the crowds have grown by about 20% each time I have seen him. And I don't think anyone felt cheated tonight.
Quote of the Night: paraphrasing Langhorne Slim... "You'll have to help me a bit on the vocals, as I almost canceled this show due to illness because I am such a wimp. The vocals may be a bit ragged, but let's keep going here." Embarrassingly enough, I was the wimp as I left a little early as my legs were really sore tonight. I am hoping his voice didn't die on him, as he was sailing along nicely more than half way through his set.
PROMO of the Night: Bright Moments will be at the 9:30 Club on June 29th. This is a project by Kelly Pratt and features fellow Beirut band members. Here is the song "Travellers"