Ha Ha Tonka and Making Movies
Knucklehead's Saloon, Kansas City
Friday, June 20, 2014
Two of the area's most raucous live bands joined forces Friday night at a distinctly authentic local venue. Knucklehead's Saloon, nestled into the small residential community of the storied East Bottoms, played host to a gathering of friends and comingling of folk cultures that brought together the Panamanian roots of Making Movies and the Ozark heritage of Ha Ha Tonka.
The city had plenty to celebrate on this balmy summer evening as the Royals returned to a mid-June homestand in first place for the first time in roughly two decades (of course, it was short-lived, but still). In keeping with the spirit of homecoming, the boys of West Plains' Ha Ha Tonka celebrated their return from a whirlwind six-week tour of Europe to the welcoming confines of their current de facto base in KC. With Making Movies, Ha Ha Tonka shared equal billing at this event, which also promised a combined set from the two seemingly disparate acts.
Making Movies began the festivities by highlighting their rhythmic and soulful take on Latin-flavored rock. Although their sound falls somewhere along the continuum of Los Lobos and the vintage psychedelic-tinged work of Santana, it's clear that Anglo influences also play a pronounced role in the melting pot that is their set. Brothers Enrique and Diego Chi are Panamanian by birth, but the band is filled out by Juan Carlos Chaurand from Guadalajara and native Kansas Citian Brendan Culp. With cultural reverence and diversity seemingly the predominate theme of the evening, Making Movies were an apt representation of how paying homage to your heritage needn't be staid or predictable.
Ha Ha Tonka took the stage for the second set. At one point, singer and guitarist Brian Roberts grinned and stared out into the sea of fans while confessing that they were "thrilled to be back in Kansas City." Although a majority of the band now calls KC home, it's obvious that their compositions are steeped in the Ozark folk tradition.
Ha Ha Tonka opened its set with two tracks off their critically acclaimed 2013 release Lessons. "Dead to the World" and "Colorful Kids" dutifully highlighted the range of their current material. The former track is a rich and swelling acoustic number imbued with a world weary take on hope in the modern era, while the latter number is a more of a bouncy and straight-forward take on indie rock. The rest of the set included a mix of the group's four LPs, including shout outs to Missouri locales in "Caney Mountain" and KC history with a reworked version of "Pendergast Machine."
But the encore of the evening was, predictably, the best part. Simultaneously, both acts returned to the stage in full around midnight in what was billed as an opportunity to join forces in covering traditional folk numbers from each band's respective background. The new super-group (Making Ha Ha? Tonka Movies?) playfully meandered through a collection of traditional Panamanian songs, including the opening song about a cock fight, while alternating traditional Ozark folk numbers. In an admittedly rare event, Tonka's drummer Lennon Bone took over guitar and singing duties on "Gimme the Leavens," a song which he dedicated to his grandfather. "Old Bill Jones," a Southern Bluegrass composition, closed out the traditional covers of the evening although the entirety of both groups returned to play Tom Petty's "Learning to Fly" as an encore that seemed to bridge the gap.
Both bands are culturally cognizant of where they've come from, while keeping an open mind to wherever they're headed musically and otherwise. Taking a page from the past is nothing new, but as we're inundated with so much commercial fair that seems to spring from little more than a soundboard or the newest version of ProTools, it's refreshing to witness two local acts that care enough to devote their time to music that has more cultural reverence and history. While the significance of Anderson deadpanning near the end of the final set that they "were very fortunate to do this for almost a living" isn't lost on a music fan in this era, you have to assume that there's nothing they'd rather be doing than playing live.
Ha Ha Tonka (solo) Setlist
Dead To The World
Made Example Of
12 Inch, 3-Speed Oscillating Fan
St. Nick's on the Fourth in a Fervor
Rewrite Our Lives