Heartless Bastards at The Troubadour
I first saw the Heartless Bastards in 2009. At the time, I had no idea who they were. My friend called me up and said his band was playing in Silver Lake. I had no plans so a bunch of us piled into my car to go check it out. There was much buzz about how they had just played David Letterman. Everyone in the crowd was clearly excited. The Bastards came out and blew us away. It’s rare these days that you find such a simple yet amazing rock n roll band.
They had elements of blues, country and garage rock. The lead singer and driving force behind the band, Erika Wennerstrom, is a powerhouse. Her raspy voice is even more beautiful live. I left that show with a new favorite band. Afterwards I dug into all of their albums and saw them again at The Wiltern. Each time they put on an amazing show. Erika has always played very basic chords on her songs, but it works for them. The stripped-down melodies go perfectly with her voice. The lyrics shine. They were a trio back then, but on their new album, Arrow, they have added a fourth member. Every album before this fourth one was fantastic front to back. I can honestly say that I loved every single one of their songs, which is an impressive feat for a band. Arrow was different for me. Tracks like “Gotta Have Rock n Roll”, “Parted Ways” and “Only For You” stood out, but it was the first time that I was a little bored. Hey, no one can be perfect all the time. I was still super stoked to see them again. And at the legendary Troubadour no less.
We had done a lot of, shall we say, pre-gaming before the concert. I had been looking forward to this for two months. I felt like a little kid waiting for Santa Claus. When we walked in, my friend immediately blurted out, “ERIKA!” She was walking our way. We started talking to her, and regardless of our inebriated state, she was super nice. I didn’t say a whole lot to her to be honest. I told her that we had seen her many times and that we loved their music. I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone who has affected my soul so deeply with their music. I actually learn her songs on guitar and play them. Ugh. Anyway, moving on. She left to go prepare for the show, and we stepped out for a minute. The bass player was standing there, so we struck up a conversation with him, too. He was equally as lovely. We told him that our other friend had no idea who they were but decided to come with anyway. He made a crack about getting up there and playing “Taking Care of Business” over and over. Okay, done embarrassing ourselves now. Time for the show.
The band came out and ripped into their song “The Mountain” off of their last album, titled the same. The goosebumps raised on my skin. I became overcome with emotion and was transported to the happiest of places. Her voice cuts to the deepest parts of your soul. The pedal steel guitar on that song is the most heavenly of sounds. They flowed into “Out At Sea” from the same album. We jumped around with the biggest shit-eating grins on our faces. Then they got into their new album. They played “Gotta Have Rock n Roll” then segued into “A Simple Feeling.” I had previously not thought too much of the latter song. Seeing it live changed my mind. The new guitarist adds a whole new element to the band. They were able to really lean in and jam out. They were super tight musically and you could tell that they were having a lot of fun. Another thing that I found really impressive about them was their sense of timing. Often, when you see a band live, they get excited and speed songs up. Not so with The Bastards. They were really true to their songs in this way. After this, they fell into all of the songs on their new album that just don’t stand out to me. It’s not that they are bad, it’s just that they’re not that great either. I did notice a new sound happening though. They were getting much heavier, Led Zeppelin type heavy. I feel like it could be the beginning of something new and exciting for them. Maybe on the next album this will all round out and be something truly amazing. After a bit of a lull, the band picked it back up and busted out their cover of the Junior Kimbrough song “Done Got Old.” They also played “Hold Your Head High,” one of my favorites. They ended the show with “All This Time” from their second album of the same name. For the encore, they played the rather dull song “Low Low Low,” but they came back around and ended it perfectly with “Nothing Seems the Same.”
All in all, it was another great night spent with The Heartless Bastards. I cannot understand for the life of me why this band is not enormous. Yes, I know that Erika doesn’t really care about sexing it up or fancy stage shows, but that is exactly what I love about her. This band is the real deal. They don’t need theatrics, and she doesn’t need fancy designer clothes. They are everything that people say is missing from today’s music scene. Sincerity, honesty, genuine musicianship, good old American Rock ‘n Roll.
Review by Tenley Nordstrom.