I knew, when the tour pairing of Langhorne Slim and my beloved Ha Ha Tonka was announced, that it would be a two blog post show — I knew I couldn’t rave enough about either band in one post, and I was right.
Ha Ha Tonka is one of best bands working today; frontman Brian Roberts writes exquisitely intimate songs, these hugely raw lyrics paired with their four part harmonies and incredibly tight musicianship. They came out last to a good sized crowd who were there to see Langhorne, and by the time they launched into “Caney Mountain”, after already having destroyed “St Nick On The Fourth In A Fervor”, they had the previously indifferent crowd in the palm of their hands — dancing, clapping, shouting. I’ve seen them work that magic before, when they were here last fall with Rocky Votolato, but it never fails to surprise and delight me, not to mention make me fall that much more in love with them and their music every time.
They burned through a great set full mostly of stuff from last year’s Death of a Decade, with a couple of old ones and a high-octane version of “12-Inch 3-Speed Oscillating Fan”, including a short cut from Ryan Adams’ “Oh My Sweet Carolina” from Roberts in the middle of the last instrumental break (a moment that took my breath away). They dropped a new one — a sharp, creepy track called “Dead To The World” — in the middle of the set, which just made me more excited for their as-yet-unrecorded-and-not-even-announced fourth album, because they’re just that good. I don’t dance and shout and sing along in the front row for just any band, but I wasn’t there as professional to see Ha Ha Tonka last night; I was there as a fan, and as a fan, they made my night.
I also got to sit with Brian for half an hour or so during Langhorne’s set, and talk about their music, Midwest touring, a set of fall shows they’re doing with Lydia Loveless (only Midwest dates, alas, but I might fly out to Chicago for one of them), baseball trivia, why the Orioles keep winning, the fact that Brian put two free spots on their guestlist under Crash Davis and Nuke LaLoosh for anybody who got there early and got the joke and wanted to claim them, and German cinema. He’s charming and funny and brilliant, just like his music and the rest of the band, and I had a lovely evening.
Full set, including Langhorne, here.
Setlist: St Nick On The Fourth In A Fervor / Caney Mountain / Westward Bound / The Humorist / Made Example Of / Lonely Fortunes / Dead To The World / Dead Man’s Hands / 12 Inch 3 Speed Oscillating Fan / Hangman / Pendergast Machine / The Usual Suspects