The Old 97’s/ Ha Ha Tonka
July 28th 2007
Chameleon Club, Lancaster, PA
Sometimes a venue really means it when they say “All information is subject to change without notice.” The July 28th show at Chameleon Club in Lancaster, Pa., experienced more changes than all the shows I’ve ever attended combined. First the time was changed from an advertised 7 p.m. doors and 8 p.m. show to an 8 p.m. doors with 9 p.m. show. Then the opening bands changed from two advertised bands to a single band that had not been advertised. But after all the changes (and an extra hour standing outside the club in the rain, while half the world’s tobacco was smoked around me) two bands combined to put on an electrifying performance and a well spent $17.
The first band, a new part of the Bloodshot Records family, may hold claim to the most ridiculous band name ever with the title of Ha Ha Tonka. Though their name is unnervingly strange (it’s actually a state park Missouri), their performance can be described as nothing less than impressive. The young four-piece walked on stage without a soul in the audience knowing who they were and walked off after implanting their name and their sound into the minds of every attendee. The band’s blend of country and rock mirrored that of the headlining band, The Old 97’s, but never seemed to copy the sound that Rhett Miller has made so famous. The band was obviously having fun playing the set which included an a cappella song performed by the entire band and an audience participation session in which the entire audience sang a chorus of Weird Al Yankovic’s “Amish Paradise” (if you didn’t already know, Lancaster is the heart of Amish country). As Ha Ha Tonka left the stage the entire audience gave sincere applause to a young and very talented band.
After Ha Ha Tonka, The Old 97’s took the stage with their own brand of country and rock for a performance that blew away a sold out house. The Old 97’s, because of a lack of recent new material, played through almost every crowd favorite song in their repertoire. Favorites like “Oppenheimer,” “Jagged” and “Busted Afternoon” were mixed in with older, lesser-known material and full-band versions of lead singer/ acoustic guitarist Rhett Miller’s solo material. The band was shocked by the sold-out venue and by the intensity of the crowd. As the show ended the crowd actually refused to leave the venue until The Old 97’s played another encore. The band returned to the stage having changed into more comfortable clothing and played three more drunken audience requests. The Old 97’s finally finished their set to thunderous applause and left central Pennsylvania in a good mood from a great show.