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Indie-rock band Ha Ha Tonka plays tonight

BY BRI LAPELUSA | AUGUST 25, 2009 7:05 AM

mp3 samples: Ha Ha Tonka

"Bleeding Heart"

"Devil"

Ha Ha Tonka’s new album, Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South, opens with lead singer Brian Roberts’ distinctly trilling voice paired with gentle guitar picking on the dramatically titled “Close Every Valve to Your Bleeding Heart.” The quiet plucking is abruptly interrupted with a heavy electric-powered guitar statement, delicately fades back, and ends with a cheery rhythmic beat. All of this may sound a little grandiose, especially for an opening track, but it somehow encapsulates the dynamic essence of Ha Ha Tonka.

The band will play at the Picador, 330 E. Washington St., at 9 p.m. today with headliners Treaty of Paris. Roman Candles and Worse Case Scenario will also perform; admission is $7.

Roberts said touring and playing shows around the country has had an effect on Ha Ha Tonka’s distinct Southern-fusion indie-rock sound. Named after a Missouri state park, the band’s Ozark influence also shines through in Roberts’ crooning vocals. However, the music maintains region neutrality with heavy guitar riffs and upbeat percussion.

“[Touring] definitely has had an influence, because of the constant exposure to new bands and new albums … and people in general,” Roberts said.

He is proud of the band’s latest release, he said, and excited to perform the new music live.

“I think it’s our best album yet,” he said. “We took whatever we accomplished on Buckle in the Bible Belt [Ha Ha Tonka’s previous album] and made it a little bit bigger and better.”

Listening to music solitarily can be engulfing and different from the experience of seeing a band perform close enough in front of you to taste the musicians’ sweat. Roberts said the separate experiences are fulfilling in completely dissimilar ways.

“If you listen to an album on your own, it’s more personal,” he said. “It’s not the same as when you go to a show and you’re having a beer with your friends and just enjoying the time out.”

Roberts said he believes that playing live shows is a fundamental experience for Ha Ha Tonka that is different from recording or practicing.

“A live performance is a little bit more rockin’ a little bit more of a good time,” he said. “There’s the communal aspect of the audience and the performers. All together, it’s a little bit more celebratory.”

Chris Insidioso, the drummer for Treaty of Paris, said he admires both his tourmates’ sound and showmanship. “We look up to them as players,” he said. “I love watching them play — they put everything into their performances.”

Roberts said that Ha Ha Tonka is anxious to get the Picador audiences’ collective feet stompin’.

“We can’t wait to get to Iowa City,” he said.


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