Concert review: Ha Ha Tonka, Langhorne Slim and the Law and Kasey Anderson and the Honkies tear up Twangfest 16 at the Duck Room, Friday, June 8
At the end of the third night of Twangfest, I was surprised the building was still in one piece. Luckily for the Duck Room, the structure is made from the same hard substances that has kept so many St. Louis buildings standing for so many years — brick, old stone and concrete.
A full-blown evening of rock ‘n’ roll began promptly at 8 p.m. with a welcome from Twangfest board member and KDHX DJ Chris Bay. Kasey Anderson and the Honkies opened night three with a solid set. Anderson advised that his Pacific Northwest-based quartet brought along songs mostly culled from his 2011 record “Heart of a Dog.” After opening with “Kasey Anderson’s Dream,” the singer dryly welcomed the crowd to the show with, “Welcome to Bonnaroo.” After some witty banter, he continued by saying, “We like your city a lot. It’s a lot bigger than we thought. There are a lot of bricks.”
During the hour-plus set, Anderson stood at stage center with a laid-back attitude and a sense of cool. Wearing a Roky Erickson t-shirt, newsboy hat and jeans, the thin musician strummed a guitar borrowed from Son Volt sideman Mark Spencer and sang with the same rawness of a young Steve Earle. The band promptly ripped into “Mercy,” a song that harkens back to early ’70s blues rock made famous by the Rolling Stones or the Faces. With a opening slide guitar burst from Andrew McKeag “Sirens and Thunder” kicked in with the power of a perfect summer road trip song.
The classic rock vibe continued with “Exit Ghost” which Anderson neatly transitioned into a medley adding Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” to the end. Anderson doesn’t seem to be trying to reinvent the wheel with his music, but certainly follows in the footsteps of giants as he grabs parts here and there for his own custom sound.
Later in the set, he dedicated his new song “Some Depression” to Peter Blackstock and Kyla Fairchild, former impresarios of No Depression magazine. The song, a witty dig on the alt-country scene contains sharp references to over zealous fans including the line with roots in the local scene, “You got Tweedy and Farrar on your vanity plates driving your Prius down the lost highway.” Bringing it all back home, the set ended with a raucous version of Bob Dylan’s “Outlaw Blues” with McKeag and Mark Spencer trading scintillating solos as Anderson sang and took a back seat to the guitar theatrics. The evening already had a great start.
As a changeover ensued, the crowd refilled their drinks, checked out the Twangfest merchandise and records from the bands and waited for the appearance of Langhorne Slim. When he appeared on stage in his black sport coat, and black hat pulled down tight, the women in the crowd, of which there were many, swooned. With his band, the Law, featuring Jeff Ratner on upright bass, Malachi DeLorenzo on drums and David Moore on keyboard and banjo, Langhorne Slim gave the evening a soulful vibe in the middle of a whole mess of rock. On record Slim can be great, but in the live setting he can be simply amazing which keeps his fans coming back time and time again. The band played a raw set that was loose and altogether tight at the same time, but much like the whirling dancers on the floor.
He started the set with “Survive” and followed with the upbeat sing-along “Cinderella.” After continuing with “Restless,” Langhorne called to the crowd “Somebody say yeah!” The crowd shouted back “Yeah” with staggering exuberance. He knew he had these dedicated fans behind him and took the energy level up further launching into “In The Midnight.” As people danced and sang along the excitement in the room built, but like a well-written set list — or any good mix tape — the singer took things back down for “Song for Sid.” Crooning to the crowd, he seductively took off his jacket for “Worries,” his upbeat stage presence taking over as he oozed showmanship.
After breaking things down again and taking a turn by himself with just his guitar for “Coffee Cups,” he brought it back up for “Mary” eventually ending with a soul-stirring performance of “Past Lives,” before handing off the gauntlet to Ha Ha Tonka for the their co-headlining performance.
Back for a third Twangfest performance, the quartet (formerly based out of Spingfield, Mo.; now spread out across the country) closed out the night with their blend of music that personifies the festival’s roots — a mix that can be easily classified as Americana, but draws on rock, country, folk, bluegrass and pop for a unique sound. Add in soaring four-part harmony vocals and it’s a wonder these guys aren’t huge stars. Nevertheless, their music plays perfectly to an audience in St. Louis who wants a little bit of the south with their rock ‘n’ roll and will show appreciation for years when it’s good.
In seemingly excellent spirits and ready to take the show to the next level, the band advised it was, “Damned good to be back in Missouri.” They kicked off their set with “St. Nick on the Fourth in a Fervor” and followed with “Caney Mountain” from their debut 2007 album, “Buckle in the Bible Belt.”
By this point in the evening the beer had been flowing and things were getting quite loose. Whether they knew it or not, the band was on and the crowd stood ready to give them that energy back with a lot of liquid courage involved.
Front man Brian Roberts led his bandmates through a nearly hour-and-a-half set of their original material from their three studio albums. After getting in other album title track with “Death of a Decade” the excitement hit a crescendo when the band ripped off a killer version of “12-inch 3-speed oscillating fan.” So, much excitement in fact that even stage dives by 88.1 KDHX DJ Chris Bay and KDHX marketing guru Chris Ward happened with some well-placed help from friends and even this writer.
As you can imagine, by the end of the evening things were pretty loose, but this mattered to no one. To get everyone’s attention back in focus, the band sang their a cappella version of Led Zeppelin’s “Gallows Pole,” and that never goes badly in this town. Yet, the lull didn’t last long as the group dipped back into their older catalog for “Gusto,” for the long time fans, but quickly followed up with “Usual Suspects” off last year’s “Death of a Decade.”
To end the evening on a perfect classic-rock note, the band ripped into a loose yet powerful version of the Ram Jam classic “Black Betty” that brought down the house. As I looked around the room at the end of the show the floor was littered in cups, beer bottles and assorted trash. High fives were exchanged, hugs were given and the bleary-eyed crowd stumbled out of the venue exhausted. St. Louis will be ready when they come back in the fall to slay us again.