Ha Ha Tonka Rocks Riverview

Matt Pflaum

Monday, Oct. 8th, Ha Ha Tonka brought their self-proclaimed “foot stompin’ indie rock” to Riverview Lounge, and they did not disappoint. Hailing from Springfield, Mo., the four-piece band is touring in support of their Bloodshot Records debut album, Buckle in the Bible Belt, which came out Sept. 11 of this year.
The band is strongly tied to their Missouri roots — they named themselves after a state park, and songs such as “Caney Mountain” refer to locations in the Ozarks. Lead singer Brian Roberts’ southern-tinged vocals make it even clearer where this band is from. The band is far more versatile than one might expect, however. “We try and straddle the fence between bluegrass and indie rock,” Roberts said.
The band did just that during their performance in Riverview, mixing songs that had a clear Southern and bluegrass influence with others in which the regional influence was less apparent.
The Brett Anderson song “Falling In” had them sounding like a power-pop band, while a cover of the Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights” further showcased their indie rock sensibilities.
On the other side of the coin, the band displayed impressive four-part harmonizing during the traditional songs “Man of Constant Sorrow” and “Hangman.” They also played an energetic and crowd-pleasing rendition of “Black Betty” that was significantly more enjoyable than the popular 1977 version by Ram Jam.
Ha Ha Tonka’s songs tend to be somewhat short, with none of the 10 tracks on their album breaking the four-minute mark. As bassist Luke Long put it, “There’s no fat on that album.” This carried over to the live setting, with the band only occasionally offering guitar solos or extended instrumental passages.
The concise nature of the band’s songs is intentional, according to guitarist/keyboardist Anderson, who said, “We feel that people’s attention spans are pretty short.” In terms of the length of their songs, Anderson said, “The shorter the better.” As drummer Lennon Bone joked, “We’re shooting for 13 songs in 13 minutes on our next record.”
The members of the band are all solid musicians, sounding tight and well-rehearsed throughout their performance. They also seemed to be enjoying themselves onstage, and looked genuinely happy to be playing.
When asked whether they preferred playing live or recording in the studio, Roberts explained, “We’re more of a live band — I think most bands at our level have to be live bands. Otherwise, nobody’s going to hear your studio work.”
If their performance in Riverview is any indication, they are definitely a band that deserves to be heard by more people. Ha Ha Tonka secured a gig opening for veteran rockers The Meat Puppets next month.
This gig could play a role in helping the band reach a wider audience. “I think the Meat Puppets audience is smart,” said Roberts, “so hopefully they’ll be receptive to something a little bit different.