Austin based band Heartless Bastards brought their own amalgam of Americana influences to London’s Borderline on Tuesday night, promoting their critically acclaimed fifth album, Restless Ones.
The place was a sell-out, though any claustrophobics would have been twitchy at the back as the audience oddly chose to leave a generous gap between themselves and the stage for the duration of the show. A shame for the band, as it subtracted from the intimacy of this most intimate of venues – though great for shooting pictures since there was freedom to move around at the front – and that is frequently tricky in this oft-broiling basement.
The band are a guitar orientated four-piece, centered around the charismatic presence of singer/songwriter/guitarist Erika Wennerstrom – whose vocals project enough power to make your hair stand on end and whose talent draws frequent comparison to Janis Joplin. Tonight, Wennerstrom belted out the high-octane sections of songs such as Down In The Canyon with a force that made it a wonder she didn’t launch her tonsils across the gap and deposit them into the front row. And she’s far from just being an aural sensation. Wennerstrom drew the eye with her flailing straw hair and in songs such as Wind Up Bird, the opening track from Restless Ones and one in which she was not encumbered by a guitar around her neck, she swayed her body and arms like a sapling possessed in an uncomfortable breeze. Arresting stuff.
We got the full gamut of all Heartless Bastards have to offer this evening. With all bar two songs from the new album represented, it certainly got a good run out. The country-rock Americana feel of songs such as Hi-Line and Pocket Full Of Thirst was there, as was the more garage-oriented sound in earlier material such as 2005’s New Resolution.
My personal highlight was Late In The Night, a crashing rock song that had drummer Dave Colvin leaving nothing in the tank. He finished the song leaning so far over his cymbals I feared he might cartwheel over them. Fortunately, he remained just the right side of the tipping-point – he’s obviously done this before. In fact, Colvin was terrific throughout and Heartless Bastards are much more than a backing band for the obvious talent that Wennerstrom exudes.
The rhythm was kept true through the bass of Jesse Ebaugh, who played some lovely meandering lines and Mark Nathan’s guitar was great – from tight riffs to spaced out hippy-tripping and seemingly all points of the 6-string compass in-between. The four-piece are assisted on stage through this tour by multi-instrumentalist Kyleen King. Tucked up at the back of the stage behind a synth on a stand, she came and went as required – playing variously keys, guitar and percussion and contributing backing vocals too. I was half-expecting her to reappear next time with a bass drum on her back and a pair of cymbals strapped to her knees.
The band finished the show with Tristessa, final track from the new album. A solo vocal performance over a wall of feedback, the band set up the latter and all bar Wennerstrom left the stage to allow her to concentrate on the former; a haunting spectacle accentuated by more oscillating arm work. Then she was gone and so was I. At street level the retiring punters could still hear that feedback ringing around beneath their feet.
Photography & Review by Simon Reed.
Heartless Bastards Live at The Borderline 01/09/15
Simon has his own great site here: www.musicalpictures.co.uk
Interview with Heartless Bastards following on soon.
Full set of pictures right here:
and a wonderful interview by Craig Scott with photos by Simon Reed right here: