Ha Ha Tonka | 11.09.10

I get the sense that a rogue pigeon attack during their set would have been played for laughs, not an excuse to bail out on the show.
 

 

Photos: Corey Woodruff

Off Broadway, St. Louis

OK, let’s get the obvious Kings Of Leon comparison out of the way early. Both Ha Ha Tonka and the Brothers Followill hail from the Bible belt and play twang-tinged rock-n-roll with more than a passing fancy for anthemic arrangements and sing-along choruses. And HHT front man Brian Roberts’ vocal delivery closely resembles that of Caleb Followill, albeit with more soul and less swagger. The similarities end there, however. Roberts and his crew present their tightly composed tunes with affable, small-town charm instead of performing in the shadow of a collective ego the size of Texas. I get the sense that a rogue pigeon attack during their set would have been played for laughs, not an excuse to bail out on the show.

As an added bonus, the band doesn’t litter their stage with piles of keyboards, auxiliary percussion and wacky lineups like so many currently touring indie acts. Though many artists embrace such eclectic instrumentation to great effect (So Many Dynamos, for example) it seems like a mere fad in the hands of most modern bands. So it was with great joy that I watched HHT ascend the stage, plug in their guitars and commence with the rocking. No fussing with giant effects-laden pedalboards or endless tuning of a viola.  Bass, guitar, and drums–that’s it. Sure, guitarist Brett Anderson broke out a mandolin at one point and peppered a couple songs with some tasteful chords on his keyboard but it was done masterfully and not as a gimmick. Kudos.

The crowd was clearly enraptured with the band, shouting along to several tunes from 2006’s Buckle In The Bible Belt before the band erupted into a monumental version of "Close Every Valve In Your Bleeding Heart". They won over yours truly as well. They simply hit all the right notes (lame pun intended) for me: authentic rock earnestly played by genuinely good songwriters will always trump gimmicky retro synth-pop in my book. I’m also glad I experienced their glory in the intimacy of Off Broadway because I have a feeling they will be playing much larger venues very soon. | Corey Woodruff

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