Sometimes I am ambivalent toward the bands that Ha Ha Tonka tours with, sometimes I grow to like them over the course of several shows, and sometimes it’s a band I already love so much that they wouldn’t even have to pay me to go with them. Oh, wait... Anyway, Langhorne Slim is one of those bands that is so awesome that I wish I could have done the whole tour with them. But with limited vacation time, all I could afford was last weekend’s Minneapolis show and the St Louis/Nashville doubleheader. St Louis had been crazy, the only night of the tour where HHT played last. Which makes sense, this was their third Twangfest appearance and Missouri is their home state after all. It was an extra long set where songs I hadn’t heard in awhile reappeared, “Close Every Valve to Your Bleeding Heart” at my request and “Black Betty,” well, because it is awesome. There was even stage diving, though it was the old-person, Twangfest kind of stage diving where you timidly lay yourself onto outstretched hands and are passed a few times before being set back on your feet.
Nashville on the other hand was a Langhorne crowd for sure. Unbelievably for a band that tours non-stop, this was only HHT’s second time here, and while they were received well, things were quiet at the merch table. Luckily, since Langhorne’s merch guy is also their guitar tech and tour manager, he doesn’t have a lot of time to sell merch and I was happy to help out. Their new record This Is the Way We Move was released just the Tuesday prior and the new tunes are terrific live. From the anthemic title track to the sweet “Song for Sid” (written for his grandfather) to the metaphysical “Past Lives” which asks if we believe in them, it’s a great record and the enthusiastic crowd ate it up. I do have to admit that the previous Be Set Free is still my favorite, mostly on the strength of “Cinderella.” It always amuses me to hear the all-male band reply “Yes my handsome fellow” and “you know I am” to Slim’s questions “Cinderella? Are you my girl?” It’s catchy and clever and gets stuck in my head for days. On this record too the title track is a winner, a mournful, almost a ballad, reflection.
Slim is a powerful performer live. He has tons of stage presence and he knows how to use it. Just the flip of his trademark hat sends a jolt through the crowd. Banjo/keyboard player David Moore may be the best sideman this side of the Sundance Kid. He’s good on the keys, but it’s his rapid fire banjo strumming that makes him a magnetic player. One look at his blood sprayed banjo and you know he means it. The rhythm section is no slouch either. Drummer Malachai DeLorenzo, who I once heard Slim introduce as Wisconsin’s fourteenth favorite son, is the actual son of Violent Fems drummer Victor, and bassist Jeff Ratner is especially killer on the upright.
Now that I’ve gotten to know these guys I’m ever more bummed that I have to miss their Madison show. Thanks to Ha Ha Tonka for making it possible for me to see three other shows.
Ha Ha Tonka