Photos and Review by Chandler Mays
Ha Ha Tonka is a Missouri band that definitely knows how to cook up a stellar rock song. Their headlining set at Smith’s Olde Bar last friday served as an intoxicating lesson in Southern rock and gospel folk music for a rowdy group of Georgians. They reminded us that the Southern sound isn’t from locality, but from the people who cultivate it through life experiences; It develops in your body as a fossil amongst bones, always present no matter where you travel.
There was not a single song played by Ha Ha Tonka that I didn’t like. They brilliantly mixed Southern rock with foot-stomping mountain music all the while utilizing a catchy pop sensibility. Lennon Bone’s rhythms were pulse-pounding, always inspiring whoops, hollers, and hand claps, although I mostly resorted to jumping and foot stomping due to constantly having a five-dollar 24oz Red Stripe in my hand. Singer and lead guitarist, Brett Anderson, expertly played the mandolin much more often than the guitar throughout Tonka’s set, and his gorgeous melodies added a nice string-band bluegrass vibe to counteract the rock dominance of lead singer Brian Roberts’ guitar strums and Lucas Long’s bass-lines.
For me, Ha Ha Tonka’s greatest asset was their ability to belt out exquisite four-part folk harmonies. Not only do these guys’ voices always hit the right notes, but they were meant to be sung together. Towards the end of the set, the whole band crowded around two microphones and sang “Hangman”, a chilling a capella folk song about a man on death row whose parents show up, and he asks if they came to see him “hanging from the gallows pole”. The song feels like the antithesis to the uplifting and spiritual song “Down In The River to Pray”, yet it’s just as beautiful.
Ha Ha Tonka often gets compared to Mumford and Sons due to both bands’ use of four-part harmonies, but I personally feel Tonka does it better than Mumford. They seem more genuine and authentic, while Mumford sometimes feels like a Shakespearean performance. I do love Shakespeare, though, and I definitely crave an overly-dramatic tragedy every now and then. However, if you want a band that can shake your body and seep into your blood like the Mississippi Delta, do yourself a favor and go catch Ha Ha Tonka.
Full Gallery after the jump…