These Bastards Are All Heart

July 15th, 2010

Heartless Bastards – Music Hall of Williamsburg – July 14, 2010

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If you were looking for in-your-face, fist-pumping rock and roll last night, you could’ve done far worse than Heartless Bastards at Music Hall of Williamsburg. In the wild jangle of electric guitars, wrecking-ball bass playing and heavy horsepower drumming, the true secret weapon was Erika Wennerstrom’s vocals, which seemed to be transported from beyond the grave—her compact frame channeling some long-passed, soulful blues legend. While other bands might build to a climax of dueling guitars at maximum decibels, the Bastards’ tension release came from Wennerstrom’s voice filling all of Music Hall like air in a balloon. Her “ooohs” during “Witchy Poo” had more energy and urgency than most frontmen could possibly consider.

Midset, Heartless Bastards were joined by a violin player who at first brought the volume to I-may-need-earplugs levels before making way for some acoustic numbers. The drummer left the stage, transforming the band into a living-room outfit. Bass player Jesse Ebaugh switched to banjo for an excellent version of “Had to Go.” Once the group returned to full strength, the home stretch of the show was an exercise in endurance rock and roll, with each song outdoing the previous in energy, length and volatile interplay. Ebaugh’s pedal steel work on “The Mountain” was a revelation. It was the highlight of the night, and you had to wonder why he only played the steel for one song. The encore featured Peter Pisano (of opener Peter Wolf Crier) singing in trio format with Wennerstrom and Ebaugh on a lovely “Be So Happy,” rounding out a 90-minute set that made the still-wanting-more crowd so happy indeed. —A. Stein