Concert Buzz

Heartless Bastards


Rio Theatre, Santa Cruz

August 14, 2012

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by Trudeau Publishing

Out At Sea with Heartless Bastards: 8/14/12

By Taylor Jones

The lights go dark in the Rio Theatre, Santa Cruz, and the sound of distant thunder rolls through the bustling crowd. Drummer Celeste Spina and guitarist Anthony Catalano of Little Hurricane storm the stage, sounding like they came from the Wild West with a spin of modern rock n’ roll. They begin their set with a few heavy blues riffs like those of The Black Keys, and have an intuitive musical connection like Meg
and Jack White. The duo shines in their vocal dialogue, which is enhanced by the lyrical conversations between male and female characters.  Additionally, their ghost-town vibe is displayed by their withered amp cabinets, which are carved into both an old nightstand and a suitcase.

After a few songs, Catalano announces, “hopefully you all know this next one,” as he drifts into the opening chords of Bill Withers’ classic “Ain’t No Sunshine.” Performing a powerful rendition of the tune, Catalano mirrors the dark, sizzling guitar tones of Jack White. Contrarily, Spina’s tempo fluctuates a bit more than it should, jumping back and fourth between choruses, but retains livelihood through her enthusiastic performance. At one point, Spina pulls out a mandolin and
begins to play drums at the same time, filling up a soundscape that many
two-person bands cannot match. They close with the song “Haunted Heart,” off their latest record Homewrecker, proving successful in melding deep blues riffs with dance rock beats.

When tonight’s headliner Heartless Bastards picks up where Little Hurricane left off, the evening continues in the theme of no-holds-barred garage rock and blues jams. The Bastards open with a surprisingly lack-luster song that doesn’t have a lot of dynamic or compositional motion, however, once they hit their second tune, “Out at Sea,” from their 2009 album The Mountain, they burst into a torrent of great songs, each one more incredible that the last.

Beginning her musical career in Dayton, Ohio, singer and guitarist Erika Wennerstrom went through a handful of musicians until relocating to Austin, Texas, where the current incarnation of the band was graced by the addition of bassist Jesse Ebaugh, guitarist Mark Nathan, and drummer Dave Colvin. “Out At Sea” depicts a woman’s troubles being washed away by the ocean tide, and can act as a metaphor for the band’s dynamics. Colvin is the ship, he lays down the groove and never skips a beat, giving support for the rest of the music to stay afloat. Nathan is the jubilant sailor, directing the motion of the ocean with his shredding guitar solos (which he makes look effortless). Ebaugh is the anchor, holding down the ship through thick and thin, and keeping everybody locked in to the groove. And finally, Wennerstrom is the sparrow; she is the songbird of the sea and never ceases to let her charisma shine through her truly genuine performance.

The authenticity in Heartless Bastards’ records traverses into their live shows. Their albums are not filled with needles processing or an overabundance of phony auto-tuning, they are simply real musicians capable of performing on a higher level than most, both in and out of the studio. So as they flow into “Simple Feeling” off their latest record, Arrow, they generate an excited atmosphere in the crowd. You can’t help but bounce around to the rush of the song, and you find a purely emotional experience in watching these musicians perfect their craft. It’s something that no one else has made – and no one else can make it theirs – it belongs to Heartless Bastards, but just for the night they are sharing their feelings about life, love, and lust, with
the rest of us.

Ebaugh and Colvin are an incredibly tight bass and drum combination. They are always together, and for tracks like “Got to Have Rock and Roll,” they hold it down steady while Nathan and Wennerstrom lay floating riffs over the chorus. In pursuing his Masters in Jazz Studies at the University of Texas, Austin, Colvin acquired a tremendous amount of technique, allowing him to have thorough control of his time and dynamics, and to blend smoothly with his fellow musicians.

Later, they play a favorite song of mine, titled “Skin and Bone,” which is also off Arrow. In this telling performance, Wennerstrom’s lyrics reflect her childhood memories of Dayton, Ohio, and how it has changed since she has grown up. Wennerstrom and Nathans’ acoustic guitars add to the country roots of this song, providing a feeling of nostalgia and slight discontent as she describes her longing to leave her hometown.

Wennerstrom leaves the stage with a humble smile and a wave to say goodnight. And when a man shouts, “come to San Francisco again!” she replies, “we’ll be at Hardly Strictly.” So never fear if you missed them tonight, you can catch them in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park for Hardly Strictly Bluegrass this year, October 5-7. If all else fails, you can check them out on iTunes, you bastards.


This review is the subjective opinion of the individual reviewer and not of ConcertBuzz

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