Heartless Bastards – [Live]

Thursday, 24 February 2011

I would like to say I didn’t have to leave this show early due to a foot injury that was making it increasingly painful to lean over the barricade for photos.

I’d like to say that the venue understood the difference between stating “show starts at 8” and “doors open at 8.”

I’d like to say that. I’d be lying, but I’d like to say that.

Wounded, sitting on the floor of the Academy of Contemporary Music Performance Lab (previously a bar called Sins) and watching stragglers in OKC Thunder jerseys slink in between sets, I can say with honesty that the hiccups were worth the trouble to see the Heartless Bastards back in my adopted city.

This was the second stop the Bastards have made in Oklahoma City (that I’m aware of, at any rate) – the first being at perhaps a more fitting venue: a refurbished house-turned-bar on the north side complete with creaky wood floors, a resilient indie rock crowd and, most importantly, with a license to serve alcohol. That’s not to say listeners need to get good and boozy to enjoy the Bastards, but their first stop here was right on the heels of The Mountain, an album rife with heavy rock meets blues sound with songs of leaving intimate places and people and damn-the-torpedoes mentalities. It’s music you can’t help but get into no matter your state of mind but, in a shared sense of defiance, a beer certainly fits. Their set that night nearly a year ago was lively, energetic, buoyed by a crowd well aware of their breakout album and all the lyrics therein. They were a group connected to the band.

They were there for those Bastards.

Last night’s show had a decidedly different energy, but certainly not a lacking one. To set the scene, I should clarify the setting: the Academy of Contemporary Music is an offshoot of a local college, the University of Central Oklahoma. The program itself is a satellite school of ACM London, and it’s basically a degree in rock-ology. Remember that movie School of Rock from a couple of years ago with Jack Black? It’s like that, but with grades and more skinny jeans. ACM opened their venue just recently, a small-ish space with exposed ceilings and pretty decent acoustics.

Anyway, after a brief sound check, Heartless Bastards took the stage to the most fanfare of the night. Frontwoman and guitarist Erika Wennerstrom gave the crowd an almost bashful “Hey!” before diving into the set, unleashing that deep soulful sound of her's that is the cornerstone of Heartless Bastards' essence. After one or two selections from The Mountain, Wennerstrom gingerly noted with delight that they’d be playing some new material for us – tantalizing news for everyone with their fingers crossed for that third album – and the new material tossed gasoline on that desire, with songs that kept to the elements the band does best: heavy guitar work paired with Wennerstrom’s knockout voice and whipped up into an energetic pace. Several songs stuck with their rock-meets-blues standard while others, like a soulful slower track bent more to a blues sensibility, crept out almost subliminally. A couple of songs got decidedly more sugary, but always within limits. It was sugary in the sense of an amaretto sour; sweet, but with a distinct after bite. While the newer items seemed to lack the heavier thud of The Mountain, they did seem strongly constructed and showed some steady growth within the band.

It is worth mentioning that the energy and the excitement of The Heartless Bastards' previous show was not present; it was replaced by appreciative head-bobbing, toe-tapping and hand-drumming on the barricade provided by a crowd of college-aged patrons. Some were there because their buddies opened, some because there was nothing better to do on a Tuesday night in Oklahoma City and others because they honestly enjoy this band. In any case, fans or not, these were songs that most of the crowd hadn’t yet heard, knew the lyrics or beats to, or how they felt about it yet. This was raw, fresh music given to a crowd still very much affected by appearances, thus every move is carefully considered. There were no wild, orgiastic screams of appreciation here, but there was the generous appreciation of a band who knows their stuff made by those in attendance, as well as the silent absorption of the essence of just being there.

Not bad for a venue with no bar.



The Heartless Bastards' tour continues. For a listing of dates, click here .


The Mountain is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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