Tea Leaf Green/Ha Ha Tonka; January 19-21, 2012; High Noon Saloon, Lincoln Hall (Chicago) and the 20th Century Theater (Cincinnati)
This might be hard to believe, but I was out with Ha Ha Tonka for three days and I didn’t take any pictures. It wasn’t because I forgot my camera or that the venues wouldn’t allow it. No, it was because I had my second carpal tunnel release surgery the day of the High Noon show. No sympathy please, it was seriously amazing. Not only did the surgery only take ten minutes, but the numbness and pain that had plagued me for months was gone. Besides in a year surprisingly short on vacation, how else was I going to go on tour if I didn’t use sick time? So the reason I didn’t take any pictures was that it was my right hand, and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out to use my camera without it. Besides, you guys have probably seen enough pictures of HHT here anyway, haven’t you?
All I knew about Tea Leaf Green before this weekend was that they were a jam band. What I knew about them after was that they were the good kind of jam band, the kind that sounds like the Grateful Dead. Because if you are going to be a jam band, that is the one you should want to be like. Their songs were catchy and interesting, and it made me want to listen to one of their CDs. They played two, hour plus sets every night with a half hour break in between. While that may be great for their dancing fans, it left little time in the night for the opening band. HHT started fifteen minutes late in Madison because at 9 pm there were only a handful of people in the room. They started fifteen minutes late in Chicago because a drive that should have taken two and a half hours took a staggering six thanks to a snowstorm. We arrived at 8:15, well past our 6:30 load in time.
That meant thirty minute sets every night, which distilled down to Ha Ha Tonka’s greatest hits. They opened with “The Humorist” each night, my favorite song off their most recent record Death of Decade, before launching into a whirlwind set that drew heavily from that and their first record. “St Nick on the Fourth in a Fervor,” “Caney Mountain” and the classic a capella number “Hangman” (which they have done every single time I’ve seen them) all came from their Bloodshot debut Buckle in the Bible Belt. After seeing them the ridiculous number of times I have seen them, you would think I’d be tired of Hangman but I’m not. Besides, they need to play it for all the people who are seeing them for the first time. There is no better showcase for their terrific harmonies. Unfortunately, my favorite record, their sophomore effort Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South, was slighted during these short sets, only “Pendergast Machine” was included. A stripped down version followed “Hangman” with only Brett Anderson’s mandolin as accompaniment.
Each night at the merch stand I met people who were seeing them for the first time and people who had come just to see them. I admire that, but I’m not sure I would have paid $15 just to see their short set. In Cincinnati a group of breathless young girls left right they were done, but made me promise that I would tell them they were amazing. I was happy to oblige. Another thing I never get tired of is telling them how great they are.