Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Only Living Ha Ha Tonka Fan in Toronto

Two weeks ago I got my monthly Failbook post from The Horseshoe Tavern announcing their upcoming shows. Most of the post was in regards to the NxNE festival, but when I looked farther down the list I saw that Ha Ha Tonka was opening Dave "Bookie" Bookman's Free Nu Music Nite on Tuesday, June 23. Holy crap! One of my favorite new bands was playing at The 'Shoe for free!

The 'Shoe website said that Ha Ha Tonka (named after a state park in Missouri) was to start at 9:10, so I arrived at the 'Shoe at about 9:00. No one was there. Zero. Some dudes that I thought may be Ha Ha Tonka were milling around, talking to the sound/lights guy, but that was it. Huh? Where were all of the fans? Did everyone have a NxNE hangover? Was I the only person in the Greater Toronto Area who knew of Ha Ha Tonka? What the fuck?

Seeing the Horseshoe completely empty was freaking me out, so I wandered over to the dudes by the soundboard, who were now trying to figure out Canadian currency and Canadian beers, and introduced myself. I ended up hanging out with the band, and their sound guy/band bitch Kyle and his buddy Megan for a good half hour before Ha Ha Tonka took the stage. We chatted about this show being their Canadian debut, how Toronto rules, how it only took them ten minutes to get across the border (new world record), the Toronto garbage strike, Missouri (they are from the Springfield/Ozark area, and I once lived in St. Louis), Cardinals baseball, how I discovered their band from a dude who posted an MP3 on the Lucero message boards, other fun stuff. They are totally laid-back, cool dudes. I had so much fun talking with them.

They took the stage at about 9:30, and about 15 people were now in attendance (of a 350 person capacity). I think most of these 15 people were the from the next three bands. I did notice that Dave Bookman himself had taken a seat in the very front of the seating area, just to the right of the dance floor.

Ha Ha Tonka played for about 40 minutes, and my very first impression was that they sounded like a pre-2005 Kings of Leon (i.e. before KOL stared believing their own hype and started to suck). But they have way more musical range than KOL. Instead of a pure indie rock show, they played styles of music from rock and punk influences, to alt country and even bluegrass. And their vocal harmonies were spectacular, especially on the a capella traditional folksong "Hangman." Brett Anderson showed his musical versatility by swapping between guitar, piano, and even mandolin. But note to lead singer Brian Roberts, let's skip the Bryan Adams jokes. Adams jokes went out in the 90s, and Canadians just roll their eyes when they hear "Summer of '69." How about some Neil freakin' Young next time?

I was totally impressed. And so, apparently, was Dave Bookman, as I saw him walk over to the merch table to buy a CD as soon as Ha Ha Tonka finished their set. I bought the boys a round of Keith's and got myself of couple of CDs, then stuck around to see the next band, Via Audio from Brooklyn, who were traveling with Ha Ha Tonka. Via Audio played a very catchy 80s-inspired rock/dance set, and they had the benefit of getting the post-Blue Jays game crowd so there were maybe 50 people at The 'Shoe by the time they took the stage.

What a fun night! And I still can't get over the fact that there was no cover charge. My MOG tells me that Ha Ha Tonka may be back in Toronto in October. I'm crossing my fingers for their Canadian next show.

Caney Mountain.mp3
St. Nick's on the Fourth in a Fervor.mp3
Buy: Buckle in the Bible Belt (2007)

I know I posted "St. Nick's" before, but I don't care. It has one of the best lines from any release in 2007: "This glimpse of brilliance is better than a long look at mediocrity." Amen.

Walking on the Devil's Backbone.mp3
Close Every Valve to Your Bleeding Heart.mp3
Buy: Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South (2009)


PKL said...

Nice write-up. Thanks.

XIII said...

HHT has a follower in Montreal too! Send them our way, we'll fill Metropolis for them!! Cheers, great site!

MB77 said...

Thanks. Excellent write-up. And a good blog. You got good taste in music.

I'd seen HHT before (in Texas) and was one of the early arrivals at the Horseshoe. In the end, I'd say they drew as many people as Catfish Haven a few years ago. Another excellent band from their neck of the woods (in every way) that's never come back.

AMP (American Music Photography) said...

Very cool write up, i got to their show in Grand Rapids, MI late so i missed some songs but they did have some problems with their sound check and played a short set, i liked what i heard though.