No Gimmicks, Just Rock and Roll

July 11th, 2013

Grain Audio Presents Heartless Bastards – Music Hall of Williamsburg – July 10, 2013

The show began with Dave Colvin pounding the drums. Then bassist Jesse Ebaugh joined in, followed by Mark Nathan on guitar, before singer-guitarist Erika Wennerstrom finally joined the jam, rounding out Heartless Bastards as they launched into a blistering, evil Beatles-esque “Simple Feeling” to open their sold-out show last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg. As far as gimmicks go, that was about all you were getting from the Bastards last night. No ginned-up lights or projections, no delay loops or laptops, just rock and roll, delivered raw and ready, played just about perfectly.

Every great rock band needs a frontman’s (or –woman’s) presence, and Wennerstrom, with a snakeskin guitar strap that screamed badass! has got enough of that it inside her that you wonder if she sets off alarms going through airport security. As the quartet blazed through a set drawn mostly from last year’s Arrow, she was a powerful presence. But Heartless Bastards spread the love throughout the band, and each song was a highlight reel of four musicians clicking like a precision machine. The storytelling arc of each song’s energy provided the tune-to-tune variety. Slow songs smoldered along to a stunning rock-out climax, while some simmered along ecstatically minutes at a time, and others started hot and grew hotter and even hotter.

Pretty much every piece was notable in some way: “The Arrow Killed the Beast” found the band drenched in red, yellow and orange light, slow-burning wicked and powerful like a soundtrack to a Cormac McCarthy novel; the Junior Kimbrough cover “Done Got Old” felt like a blues reinvention the Who might’ve pulled off in their prime; “Only for You” was a love song so good, you wished it were you Wennerstrom was howling for atop that groovy riff; and “Down in the Canyon” rocked into that can’t-believe-they-keep-topping-themselves overdrive. And as good as Heartless Bastards are, that’s probably the best thing about them—that they do keep topping themselves. —A. Stein

Photos courtesy of Sean O’Kane |