Friday, November 21, 2008

Ha Ha Tonka/The Aaron Scholz Trio; November 21, 2008; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music

The charming boys of Ha Ha Tonka had stayed at my house before I even saw them play for the first time. I’d heard their record, and while I liked it, it didn’t inspire an urgency to see them live. That changed that next day when I finally saw them play for a small but enthusiastic crowd in a mostly empty field on Willow Island as the first band on the SoCo Music Experience main stage. Their manager had contacted me previously about the band playing the house, but the dates just hadn’t worked out. I’ll admit that until I saw them play I wasn’t that motivated to make it happen, but once I did I ready to jump at the first chance I got. It didn’t take long. Within a few weeks after that I had a date on the calendar. I was already holding the next night for Walter Salas-Humara of the Silos, but I decided to do it anyway. Good thing I did, Walter’s plans changed and I couldn’t do the night he wanted.

I had a bad feeling that the crowd wasn’t going to be as big as I would have liked. For the sake of the bands, I want every show to be a sell out, but the signs were pointing to that not happening. Many folks had responded to my e-mail with an I-wish-I-could-but answer, and the crowd barely reached double digits for the opener. Not that it mattered in the end, most of my favorite people were there in addition to a few new faces, and I’m pretty sure everyone had a great time. I know I sure did. And to be honest, that is exactly why I do these shows. I only have bands I love and that I want other people to love play and that makes all the time and money that I put into these completely worth it

The Ha Ha Tonka guys sure seemed to have fun. They were all smiles as they tore it up on the super catchy songs from their Bloodshot debut Buckle in the Bible Belt, in addition to mellowing it out once in awhile. Their gorgeous acapella version of the old traditional “Hangman” gives me shivers every time I hear it. In addition to being sweet and charming, every one of them can sing, and they sound so damn good together. Nothing-but-trouble bass player Luke Long pulled out a new trick halfway through the set. It may be the first time I have seen a Jew’s Harp played during a rock show, it was certainly the first time there’s been one in the basement. And it wasn’t just a toy; he really seemed to know what he was doing. They proved they really know how to pick a cover by closing with Ram Jam’s rocker “Black Betty,” a song that will always be inextricably linked to my childhood WNNO dances at the skating rink. Perhaps that is why I found myself smiling like an idiot through the whole song.

Ha Ha Tonka certainly didn’t have a monopoly on gorgeous harmonies tonight. Openers Aaron Scholz, Bob Koch and Peter Fatka have been doing it for years as the Low Czars, their quirkily obscure cover band. Under that name they draw good sized crowds to Mickey’s and the High Noon for their inspired covers of the Who, the Monkees, and the Kinks. OK, so they didn’t attract a crowd tonight playing mostly Aaron Scholz originals, but they still sounded great. He seldom plays them out anymore, focusing mostly on the cover band, so very few people know them. He couldn’t have been too upset when I asked for Big Star after he asked if there was anything we wanted to hear. I certainly wasn’t expecting the achingly beautiful “Thirteen” in response; but I couldn’t have been happier.

In fact, that pretty much sums up the night. I couldn’t have been happier.

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