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The problem with catching a favorite band multiple times is that surely they cannot blow you away every single show. Sooner or later they will assuredly mellow it out or just not quite hit that note. Well, this example is certainly not referring to Ha Ha Tonka. The exact number of times I have seen this band escapes me. However the number of times they have disappointed me is clear; zero. Each show is just as awesome as the last and their recent trip through the Midwest was no exception.

Still running off the well-deserved steam recently known as Death Of A Decade, the Thanksgiving Eve show featured hits from each of the band's albums. Like that of "St. Nick On A Fourth In A Fervor," a song that picks out all those long time fans with its Sunday choir chorus and it's crazy ability to get a crowd of 200+ singing in perfect unison. If that wasn't enough the ear piercing lead guitar had such attitude and swagger it was addicting all itself.

The first "new" song to make it on the setlist was "Problem Solver" and once again, there were those lead strings being plucked. However this time they were so light and airy that you'd swear they were attempting to drift you off to sleep. Once the reverb makes its way back to the stage, your attention is brought to a song filled with a childlike energy. One thing Ha Ha does amazingly well is write songs a crowd cannot wait to sing along to. This was a prime example. "The girl is a problem solver / there ain't nothing else I think you can call her / well the girl is a problem solver."

Pulling from their album Novel Sounds Of The Nouveau South came "Hold My Feet To The Fire". The tempo on this one is a touch slower, but the emotion is still there. On the live stage this selection went on the groove path. The bass got to move the audience this time. The underlying rhythm had a bit of folk mixed in, creating a nice sashaying mood throughout the room. The best part of the song is the last 30 seconds as a note progression leads into a complete harmonic explosion.

A highlight of the evening was to see "The Humorist" live on stage. Ok sure, 90% of the song is fairly somber and borders on a ballad. It's that other 10% though which is so full of dynamics and power that, when it's happening in front of you, you're not entirely sure what you just experienced. This specific experience comes at about 3:00. After a delicate sequence of notes lifts you above the crowd, four voices grab you by the wrists and pull you back to earth. The few pulsating tones coming from the keys, acts as a stage themselves for the vocals to really shine. Once the song ended, there was an instant desire to hear it again.

Ending the original set was their single from Death... . A mandolin may be small, but these guys figured out how to give it a huge sound in the song "Usual Suspects". Between little strings and big ones, the rhythm matched that of a country hoedown. Knees were inexplicably lifting and hands could not be kept from clapping. There's something about the lyrics from this song that managed to empower that audience while showing them an awesome party. Not sure how they did that.

It could've been the 5th or 15th time I've seen the boys of Ha Ha Tonka, but whichever it was it was still as solid of a set as the 1st.

-Rachel Fredrickson

Ha Ha Tonka
November 23, 2011
Record Bar, Kansas City, MO

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