Sunday, June 17, 2007


after a spur of the moment judgement call at a fork in the road, my friend dave and i found ourselves sitting in construction traffic on I-76. we sputtered along at an average of 7 mph as our concern over time gradually grew. we'd given ourselves an hour and fifteen minutes to make it to the north star bar to see the headlining act that night, the blues rock trio, the Heartless Bastards. we made it, in the end, after making an hour long journey out of what would normally take about 15 minutes.

both dave and i had seen them once before. they played a free show at the World Cafe Live last fall. i had heard a few songs off their debut album (Stairs & Elevators) prior to that night. i liked what i was familiar with, but had difficulty tracking down the album (or their newest, All This Time) in any of the stores within close proximity, so i was eager to hear more of their material. the show turned out to be better than i'd hoped. the sound at World Cafe Live is always fantastic, especially when its a good sound to begin with. we became quick fans as we sat at a table near the back. i picked up both CD's afterward.

the North Star Bar is a smaller, more intimate venue. the acoustics aren't as good (though not bad either), but the crowds are smaller so you're rarely more that 15 feet from the band. they have a balcony upstairs which literally hangs over the front of the stage. that would be the place to be if not for the location of the speakers. they're on the ground floor so the music has to bounce off of every wall in the place to make it to your ears. still, i've always liked the scene, and they tend to get some great smaller bands to stop by on their tours. the Devotchka show i saw there last year was phenomenal. i still talk about it from time to time.

around midnight, Erika Wennerstrom, the lead singer and guitarist, zig zagged past me and through the onlookers toward the stage. i hadn't realized how small she was before. she couldn't stand more than a few inches over 5 feet. she spoke to a few people in a quiet, almost shy voice. then, after tuning their instruments, the three piece took the stage.

to see such a punk, blues rock voice come out of little Erika is worth the price of the ticket alone. the Heartless Bastards are, without a doubt, her band. her crunchy blues riffs and emotion soaked wails are the showcase. she's all about the music and it shows. its refreshing to hear a singer put all of herself into it. it was a transformation the second the first word escaped into the microphone, from the small woman you might not notice to sexy rockstar. i read a review that compared her vocals to robert plant "without all the girly frills". that's fairly accurate. maybe add a hint of feist and a dash of fiona apple, too, and it spot on. loud, raw angst and feeling in every note. she mostly bounced in place and stuck to her guitars, with the exception of a couple piano songs. one of my favorite songs, Into The Open, starts with her switching back and forth from the keyboard and the guitar. still, its the voice that holds your attention.

the rest of the band is of little note. neither the bass line nor drumming are much different from anything you've likely heard already. not to say that they weren't capable. its more as if they're accompaniment, which is more of a testament to what Wennerstrom brings to the table than an insult to the band as a whole. the drummer did seem a bit off at times, though. his beat keeping was a little slow, forcing Erika to draw out her "whoooaa, ohs" and her "yeeeaaah, ahhhs".

they're definitely worth your time if you aren't aware of them already. they were signed by Fat Possum records after sending their demo to the Black Keys. they have the potential to grow into something big, but, as of yet, they're still floating under the radar. try to see them live while they're still playing bars and small clubs.

(you can stream their newest album, All This Time, in its entirety)

or pick up either or both of their albums
(images link to

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