Saturday, June 12, 2010

Twangfest Night 4; June 12, 2010; Blueberry Hill, St Louis

We’d already planned on not attending Twangfest this year since Bill, who has always been our Twangfest leader, needed to save vacation time (and probably some money) for an upcoming trip to Italy. That allowed me to finally book a date for the Bottle Rockets to play at the house after a year of trying. But then we found out the reunited Jason & the Scorchers were playing one of only two US dates announced thus far at the annual festival. So I did what anyone would do, got up at 7 o’clock in the morning and got in the car for the drive to St Louis. We probably wouldn’t have had to leave quite so early if it weren’t for the Ha Ha Tonka in store performance that afternoon and Euclid Records. I’ll confess right here, Jason & the Scorchers are good, but I was in on this trip for Ha Ha Tonka.

Sure I see them all the time, and yes they have been playing essentially the same set for the last year, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to miss a chance to see them. Most in store performances I’ve been to have been short, a half dozen songs to convince the store patrons to buy a record or come to the show, but Twangfest in-stores have become mini-shows usually lasting well over thirty minutes. It was a bit of a disappointment when after four songs they said they had time for one more and would take a request if anyone had one. Since mine would have been “Surrounded,” my second favorite song off Novel Sounds but never played live, I kept my mouth shut. We were rewarded with a new song “Westward Bound,” which extended their string of instantly likeable new tunes. It was short, but I still enjoyed the stripped down set, Lennon had a tambourine and a few other percussion instruments, Luke played acoustic bass, and Brett only played mandolin.

The mellow set could not have prepared me for the virtual firestorm to come later. In the middle slot at the Duck Room that night, they played with a fevered intensity above and beyond their consistently impressive show. The new song from earlier in the day made an appearance as well as “All of the Usual Suspects,” another new song which had been in the set since February. Almost everyone at Twangfest gets an encore, but seldom do they deserve it as much as Ha Ha Tonka did tonight. The most inspired of their covers has always been RamJam’s “Black Betty,” and tonight’s torrid version demonstrated why. In the middle of the song Luke commented that they had been watching the Blues Brothers the night before. Brian looked confused, “this song isn’t in the Blues Brothers, this one is.” And with the he went seamlessly into the “hidee hidee hidee ho” call and response section from “Minnie the Moocher” like that was the way they always did it. Awesome. Now that’s an encore.

Opener Magnolia Mountain earned points for having the biggest age gap I’ve ever seen in a band. On one side there was the little old guy who played a mean mandolin and harmonica and on the other a fresh faced guitar player barely old enough to drink. The ensemble band, with eight members total, had come from Cincinnati to play Twangfest. They were enjoyable but totally forgettable musically.

I’d seen Jason Ringenberg solo twice before. On the second occasion Matthew Grimm and his band (who had opened the show) played the part of the Scorchers for several songs. Before that moment I didn’t realize the difference between Jason solo and Jason & the Scorchers. Freed of his guitar, he turns into a dervish, whirling almost out of control across the stage, the fringe on his fancy silver shirt twirling with him. His energy and abandon would be impressive at any age, but even more so considering how long he’s been in the game. Less showy, but admittedly only slightly, was guitarist Warner Hodges, his well-worn boots sported a pair of spurs, as completely unnecessary as they were totally awesome. Once you got past that and his oddly out-dated hair, you realized what an amazing guitarist he was. Disappointingly the handsome young Scandinavian drummer with the name of Pontus Snibb, who had played on the recent release and the European tour dates, had been replaced on the US dates by a much gnarlier fellow. But he proved to be a monster drummer. I know there was at least one drummer in the audience who had a serious man crush by the end of their set.

I had moved to the back of the room when the heat got to be too much at the front of the room. Lennon came and stood by me and we watched the band together for a while. “That’s going to be us in twenty years.” “I hope so,” I replied, and after a moment added, “but you guys will still be cuter.”

Ha Ha Tonka at Euclid Records

Magnolia Mountain

Ha Ha Tonka

Jason & the Scorchers

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