Ha Ha Tonka | 06.20.13

hahatonkaThe crowd was fantastic; the music was better, and the showmanship of all three bands was phenomenal.

 

Off Broadway, St. Louis

Two Ozarks natives took to the stage this past Thursday at Off Broadway. Ha Ha Tonka, from West Plains, Mo., headlined the show. Their unique name comes from Ha Ha Tonka State Park, where a castle was built in the early 1900s. Loufest veteran Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin hails from Springfield, Mo. Their name is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the first democratically elected leader of Russia (where he was quite unpopular) following the Cold War. The first opener was Ezra Furman, from Chicago.

If you have been to many concerts, you have seen openers who seemed to play over an apathetic audience. This was certainly not the case Thursday night. Ezra Furman played guitar while Sam Durkes was on drums. Their music spanned a pretty significant evolution of rock: classic to punk to alternative to indie, and certainly not in any order. His song “Blood-sucking Whores” is ironically in the style of a typical ’50s love song. Furman’s stage-presence captured the audience’s attention for the entire set. With the psychopathic, versatile voice of Matthew Schultz of Cage the Elephant, his ripped-up t-shirt (it was virtually missing a back), and the bizarre, spastic facial expressions of Iggy Pop, Furman captivated everyone in the venue. Led by his charisma and a small group of devoted fans, many in the crowd danced for his entire set.

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin opened up with a fan favorite, “Oregon Girl.” The lineup was unusual; missing was guitarist and vocalist John Cardwell. However, Phil Dickey sang lead for the entire set, even while drumming on some tunes. The show included many new songs from their upcoming album, Fly by Wire. They successfully mixed chill and upbeat neatly into their new song “Lucky Young.” Another new song played was “Nightwater Girlfriend,” which featured more distortion than typical for the band. Both were signs of a very promising upcoming album. They dedicated one song to the Springfielders in the audience, “Modern Mystery,” a SSLYBY classic. The crowd danced harder and sang louder, and, at the accustomed note, Dickey did his signature leap in the air (unfortunately, not off of the bass drum this time). However, it was their closing song, “Let it Sway,” that yielded the most crowd action. As the song reached its end, Dickey ran around the stage comically shaking a maraca.

By the time Ha Ha Tonka claimed the stage, Off Broadway was a very cozy venue. An excited, dancing crowd spanning ages 18 to 58 covered the floor, seemingly singing every word to every song. The band’s Ozark roots were apparent in the Southern rock they played, with its traces of bluegrass. The band deftly went through their set, playing new and old hits to which the whole room clapped or stomped along. Their tune “Westward Bound” drew Scotch-Irish influence and was one of their most memorable songs of the night. I was blown away by their a cappella song “Hangman,” off of Buckle in the Bible Belt. I have never been so moved by a song in concert as I was for this one. The amount of soul put into singing just that one song filled the entire room to create an indescribable feeling. They finished with their biggest hit, “Usual Suspects,” which seemed to be the climax of the night. Everyone screamed the lyrics and danced as much as they could, despite exhaustion. I use the word “seemed,” because Ha Ha Tonka came back out for a two-song encore. For their final song, members of SSLYBY joined them on stage, playing percussion or just dancing. The stage presence of each band was added together to create one of the most fun jams I have been lucky enough to witness.

In my experience, many indie shows tend to draw an audience that does not interact well but merely stands around and looks at the stage. It was refreshing to see this trend reversed. The crowd was moving from Furman’s first song to Ha Ha Tonka’s last. Off Broadway provided a great atmosphere: the crowd was fantastic; the music was better, and the showmanship of all three bands was phenomenal. | Thomas Radomski

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