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Laarks with Ha Ha Tonka at the Varsity

25 Apr

April 19, 2011

After a lengthy sound check that rivaled PJ Harvey’s at Coachella, Eau Claire’s Laarks finally took the stage. Unfortunately, that was a sign of how things were going to go for Laarks on this night.

Photo by Zach Olefont


Laarks is still touring on their 2009 debut, An Exaltation of Laarks, but I was excited to see the band live for the first time.  I’ve very much enjoyed drummer Brian Moen’s work with Peter Wolf Crier as of late. Moen’s a more typical drummer with Laarks, as he’s backing a more traditional indie pop/rock band. Ian Jacoby is on keyboards and vocals, joined by guitarist Kyle Flater and bassist Zach Hanson.

It was an energetic start, once things got going. Laarks played “Lost” and “All The Words You Can’t Say Right”, and it was great to see Moen practically bouncing out of his seat, as is typical for his Peter Wolf Crier shows – but he’s got so much more going on here. Unfortunately, the vocals were somewhat lost. Actually, that’s not true, they were completely unintelligible.

Jacoby did pause before introducing the third song to note that his keyboard was “out of tune”. He introduced the song as a new one (Untitled, as yet) from a new album they are working on, and called it a “slow one”. Well, it might have been new, but it was not slow – and it suffered the same sound issues. I spent the fourth song, “The S Stood For Science”, moving around to a couple different spots and using/not using ear plugs to see if it would help. But nothing helped, and the fifth song was over before I could even place it.

Clearly Jacoby was still unhappy with the sound as he then took a pretty long break to comment on the situation. “Oh, so we’re calling some audibles, so that should be cool,” he quipped. “As bad as this is,” he continued, “it can always be worse.” “In fact, we could be Eric Clapton, who, at one of his house parties, decided it would be funny to hide in a closet/cabinet, but then passed out. When his friends finally found him, they immediately informed him that he’d missed the Beatles reuniting for an impromptu performance in his backyard.” So yes, that would have been worse, I guess.

Laarks closed out their seven song set with “What God Hath Wrought” and “Telephone”. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt here that it was simply a band sound day, and they were clearly not happy with how things were going. Neither was the audience, I don’t think. In fact, upon the final note being played, the band turned and went backstage immediately, at a pace matched only by how quickly the crowd turned and headed for the back bar. It was too bad really, since Moen is such a joy to watch working the drums, and I really do like their music. Maybe next time.

Laarks Set List:
1) Lost
2) All The Words You Can’t Say Right
3) New Song
4) The S Stood For Science
5) ?
6) What God Hath Wrought
7) Telephone

After the frustrating set by Laarks, Missouri outfit Ha Ha Tonka was a breath of fresh air. The first thing lead singer Brian Roberts said upon walking up to the microphone was, “How about the bathroom here? I’d rent that bitch out!” With that, they launched into their set. They’re a straightforward rock band, mixing classic rock, southern rock, and mountain folk in equal

I think it may have been more crowded for Laarks’ set, but those that remained were some of the most enthusiastic fans I’ve seen around town. It really wasn’t long before everyone in the place was smiling ear-to-ear, clapping along, singing out loud and dancing. Roberts commented about the enthusiasm after the second song, “This sounds like Saturday night. It’s Tuesday!”

Their new album, Death of a Decade, was just released this month, and they also recently enjoyed an appearance on Anthony Bourdain’s television show, No Reservations. I enjoyed their original material, as well a couple of covers they threw in. They did a very cool a cappella version of “Hangman”, and a particularly rocking version of “Black Betty”. All in all, I think I’ll remember the crowd the most. It really was a fun, party crowd. So enthusiastic were the screams from the ladies in the audience, that as the band waved good bye for the night, Roberts sheepishly said, “Ladies, relax, huh? Jeez!”  I certainly hope to see Ha Ha Tonka again, and I hope everyone is just as excited next time around.

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