On tour with Ha Ha Tonka- Day 5; April 2, 2011; The Hi Dive, Denver
While the scenery had been unfailingly beautiful on this trip, we hadn’t seen any wildlife of note. That changed today as we were leaving Utah. A pronghorn antelope dashed across the road, slowing traffic and leading to exclamations of “what was that?” The rest of the eight hour drive was less interesting, while the flat expanses that ended in mountains all around us were stunning, they eventually morphed to monotony. More demanding of our attention were the high winds that buffeted the van for more than half the drive. With gusts up to 55 mph, warning signs suggested small trailers beware. Luckily James Dean has done this drive before.
Denver’s Hi Dive is yet another venue I’ve wanted to visit, when bands I like play Denver this is usually where they play. It’s a big room with a capacity near 300, and a half wall separates the stage from the bar area. Sadly, that meant I couldn’t see the band from the merch area. Since this was my last night on tour, I ducked in and out of the room for my last couple songs I would hear. You know, at least until they are in Madison two weeks later. As much as I’d enjoyed Hoots & Hellmouth, I had gotten a little tired of them after five nights. Inexplicably that has yet to happen with Ha Ha Tonka, even though the set list has been essentially the same for a year. Many of the new songs, like “Made Example Of,” “Westward Bound” and “Deadman’s Hand,” they’ve been playing since well before the record’s release. The first single (and the song they played on No Reservations) “Usual Suspects” has been a constant on the set list since early last year. In fact, I think only “Lonely Fortunes” and title track “Death of a Decade” were new for this tour, but the fact that I’ve been listening to the record since the end of last year made even those songs familiar. Still, no complaints.
Big Smith’s “12 inch, 3 Speed Oscillating Fan” usually figures into the encore, the ridiculously catchy, high spirited number is a perfect finale. I’ve never even heard the original version, but I find it hard to believe they could equal HHT’s enthusiastic hoe down. Each night Rob Berliner from Hoots had been joining them for the song, jamming an enthusiastic mandolin, but since tonight was the last night of their tour together, the whole band joined them on stage. Additionally, Denver resident Pat Meese (of the band Meese) was part of the jamboree, taking over the mandolin.
No matter how a good a vacation is, I am inevitably ready to come home at the end. Not this time, I easily could have stayed out on the road with them another week or more. And I am pretty sure they would have let me, I know that James Dean was delighted to be relieved of merch duty. The highest compliment came from Luke who told me tonight, “You know Keeks, you didn’t get in the way at all.” Aw, thanks.
Ha Ha Tonka