donderdag 1 november 2012

Ha Ha Tonka live in the Q-Bus

Ha Ha Tonka. 30-10-12, by Wo.
You can listen to 'Lonely fortunes' here.

On a Tuesday evening, after loads of rain (okay, everything is relative, I know) it turned dry, so we went to see a band with a, let's call it euphemistically, different name. The Q-Bus was not exactly full, far from, but everyone who decided to stay home, made a mistake. Ha Ha Tonka is great band, as you are about to learn, should you not know.

Ha Ha Tonka is a band from the mid-west of the USA, playing in the range of alt.americana to indie rock, but with loads of surprises, angles, twists and bends. As mandolin/guitarist/singer Brett Anderson (no, not that one) said after the show: "we like to keep it interesting". Let's dwell on that later.

The fun with most bands playing the Q-Bus is that I don't know where I'm going to, have never heard them play a single note and let myself be surprised. Almost never in a negative way, sometimes pleasant and quite often tremendously. Ha Ha Tonka sits in between the last two. The reason for this is simple: Not one song stuck in my mind as sometimes happens at shows. The band's songs are not always easy to follow and a lot is happening, which not only calls for just listening but also attention and flexibility when the next unexpected turn comes along in the song.

Drummer Lennon Bone, by Wo.
It all started off fairly normal. A song with an acoustic, well nearly as the mandolin was an electric version, atmosphere. It played the lead notes, making the sound countryish, taking off in a direction where REM left off with 'Losing my religion'. Harmonies kicked in here and there.'Two, three and four part. The drummer was fun to look at. Playing a mini version of a drum kit, he looked like he had learned all the parts by heart and now played them for real for the first time. Every move looked so studied, but spot on.

After a few songs I noticed that singer, Brian Roberts can really sing. Moving his voice in and out the rasping kind without exerting himself and pulled back where it benefited the harmonies. A cool looking bass player, playing all these smooth notes and Blaudzun's younger brother, Brett playing a Neil Young/Chris Eckman style of electric guitar. No very fancy solos while there's something going on the whole time. Full chords are more of an exception.

Bass player Lucas Long, by Wo.
The band took us though louder repertoire after the first songs, but also into acapella four part harmonies that resonated the air. The Led Zeppelin song 'Gallow's pole', and knowing LZ it's much older than 1970, got a great version this way, where Ha Ha Tonka hinted at influences from way beyond their days as we are discussing a band with members in their 20ties.

That the band is able to make such shifts within the songs' structures as well, made the gig even more impressive. The obvious in a composition is not enough. The additions found is what makes Ha Ha Tonka so interesting to listen to. And if something shone through, they four members really seemed to enjoy playing here (and yes, Leiden is a lovely town. Come and see for yourself, dear reader. Ha Ha Tonka will confirm so asked). The fun of being able to play this music seems an important driver for the band.

It all ended with 'Black Betty' the 1977 Ram Jam hit, Leadbelly song, but not after another great four part harmony. In 2013 they'll be back, so they said. Make sure to be there. This band deserves more fans. On this blog in the near future more on Ha Ha Tonka. Expect a review of the cd 'Death of a decade' and an interview. For now: this was great fun and definitely looking out for more.


You can order 'Death of a decade' here.

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