thu 18/04/2024

Heartless Bastards, Borderline | reviews, news & interviews

Heartless Bastards, Borderline

Heartless Bastards, Borderline

Texan rockers show that, vocally, bigger can indeed be better

Some consider Heartless Bastards to be the best band you’ve probably never heard of – albeit blighted by an awful name. Others say the Texas-based four-piece are merely a jumped-up garage band. Wherever you stand, though, one thing is beyond dispute – the awesome power of Erika Wennerstrom’s voice. For much of last night she sounded like the love child of Robert Plant and Janis Joplin.

And when the band hit its stride you could almost smell the oil and sweat of their Midwestern blue-collar origins. 

Particularly the sweat. The subterranean Borderline club was about 35 degrees, humid and bursting with hipster rockers – equal numbers of youngish men and women including a sizeable American contingent. At nine, on the dot, the quartet (plus touring keyboard player) arrived on stage. Wennerstom looked cool in a long black dress, leather waistcoat and black kohl eyeliner. Then, after sorting some issues with microphone stands and feedback, the band launched into “Gotta Have Rock’n’Roll”. From the get-go it was clear that this was a group who like to play LOUD. Which, in an age of health and safety, mainly seemed refreshing.

Jesse Ebaugh’s bass burbled, and Mark Nathan crunched heavy guitar riffs

The concert was, roughly, divided in three parts. The first featured the band's overdriven Americana sound. Songs like “Journey” and “Hi-Line” invoked widescreen lyrical imagery and soaring melodies, played with Jurassic force. Drummer Dave Colvin thumped the hell out of his kit, Jesse Ebaugh’s bass burbled, and Mark Nathan crunched heavy guitar riffs. Still, it was always the vocals that shone brightest. Wennerstrom screwed up her eyes to deliver line after line, apparently without drawing breath. It was spectacular. Yet, instead of really wigging-out the crowd simply responded with laconic nodding. 

In fact, they continued to play it cool even during the concert's most intoxicating section (also, incidentally, the quietest). “Pocket Full of Thirst” had a lovely country vocal that just grew and grew; “The Fool” consisted of euphoric space pop; and the quirky, keyboard-led melodies of “Into the Light” were simply gorgeous. 

It wasn’t until the last half hour – a sort of free-form, turbo-hippy section – that the audience started to respond with proper volume and enthusiasm. They cheered during “Down in the Canyon” with its epic swampiness, and waved arms during the meandering Southern sounds of “Late in the Night”. Indeed, Wennerstrom's own arms waggled during “Wind up Bird” as if attempting to conjure up the spirit of the Summer of Love.

Some tighter musical structure was resumed, next, with the band’s biggest song to date, the beguiling “Only for You”. Now the room was fully into the spirit of things. So much so, Mark Nathan’s melodious solo even earned its own round of applause – a reminder of how well he and the band had served Wennerstrom all evening. Still, the night ended with the singer alone on stage. Fittingly so. For, despite now being a proper “band”, the evening had still really been all about that incredible, powerhouse voice – more Erika Wennerstrom and the Heartless Bastards. Which, incidentally, might also be a better name.

Overleaf: watch the video for Heartless Bastards' "Only for You"

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