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Considering that one of their latest singles is called “Got To Have Rock And Roll,” it makes total sense that the Heartless Bastards didn’t just give a typical and reserved indie-pop performance tonight. There were guitars cranked to eleven (both while they were being played, and while they were being smashed), Dave Colvin’s drum sticks waged war against his own kit, and fuzzy bass tones pulsated continuously from the opening song until the encore. The Texas-based Heartless Bastards showed up at the fashionable Royale with some gut-punching rock and roll tonight, direct from Austin to Boston.
The Heartless Bastards were preceded by fellow Austinite Dana Falconberry, and then by fellow southerners Futurebirds who hail from Athens, GA. Dana is the cutest front girl I have seen since the Söderberg sisters (First Aid Kit), and her songs are beautifully composed in a familiar yet stimulating way. Her two female backup vocalists made the whole band of five seem like a family of siblings, each plucking away on their side of the stage, comfortable and confident in their performance.
Futurebirds are reminiscent of a more boisterous My Morning Jacket, and they have enough beards to compete with Jim James any day. They incorporate smooth vocals, honest lyrics, and heavily distorted guitars, which all culminated in their crowd-pleasing song “Wild Heart.” By the time Heartless Bastards stepped onto the stage, feet were stomping and heads were nodding, thanks to these two great openers.
If she was asked, I don’t think Erika Wennerstrom would even know how to put on a toned-down show. Her commanding voice and progressive song structures are too thunderous to be confined by a stereotypical singer-songwriter outlet, and that’s what makes Heartless Bastards so attractive and successful as a collective of musicians. It’s not “Erika Wennerstrom and the Heartless Bastards” for a reason. Each of the four official band members is equally necessary for the sake of the whole group, they all need, and couldn’t do without each other.
Now with that said, we need do to recognize Erika’s amazing talent. She sings with this powerful mumble technique, and then can still belt out these soulful, hair raising thrusts of purely pleasurable sound. It was surprising to see this short, petit blonde sing with the weighty coarseness that she did. This ability of hers to mute and then release her voice really helps bring life to her optimistic lyrics. “Hold Your Head High” has a strong hopeful message and Erika was all the more convincing when she sung about how “things are going to work out soon” and “come around again,” thanks to her inspiringly powerful voice.
To continue recognizing the importance of every member in the band, I will say that Jesse Ebaugh is doing more for the mission of increasing appreciation for the slide guitar than any probably other popular musician on tour today. Granted he only used his seated instrument on one song, “The Mountain” from the 2009 full-length release of the same name, but Jesse completely stole the stage while he sat down and got to work. The instrument so often feels antique when contemporary musicians use it, but because of the perfect amount of added distortion, and the catchiness of the riffs he repeated, Jesse was one hell of an advocate for the classic lap steel.
One other thing that the Bastards did tonight which speaks to their Rock and Roll vibes was their introduction of themselves to the audience. In the classical style of vintage rock groups, Erika went around the stage having the three other bandmates give a quick solo after stating their name, as if we the audience weren’t convinced of their talent. I have only seen this kind of stunt in films, and how cool it was to get a feel for that authentic, almost old fashioned band tradition.
It goes without saying, but Heartless Bastards do know how to play loud and play well. Erika, Dave Jesse, and Mark gave the audience a glimpse into a type of band that isn’t seen much these days. The rock and roll band who isn’t too focused on image, indie-cred, or hipness, but more on the edgy music. As cliche as that statement may sound, I do believe that the Heartless Bastards have something going for them that’s not commonly found anywhere else, a healthy sense of dependent trust in each other, which can make all the difference in a bands live performance.