It’s interesting how the experience of attending a live show can be heavily influenced by where one decides to stand during the performance. I’m not necessarily talking about being able to actually see the band, but how the people around you can affect the experience as a whole. I’ve had moments where I’ve bonded with my elbow-buddies while we bobbed our heads to live music, and I’ve had moments that cause me to wonder what the hell these people ingested (injected?) before they showed up. Though this crapshoot is a necessary sacrifice to the concert gods, I really hate it when I’m forced to choose between a spot with good visibility and a spot populated by shitheads.
A few songs into Little Hurricane’s set, I realized that my decision to stick it out despite the local flavor was the right one. The San Diego duo had the stage decked out with vintage furniture and instruments that were both functional to the performance while creating a visual aesthetic right out of Gone With the Wind. Based on their gritty, Southern-inspired rock and the combo of male vocalist/guitarist plus raven-haired female drummer, it’s easy to draw a hasty comparison to the now defunct White Stripes (may they rest in peace). Though the influence of Jack and Meg was definitely present, Little Hurricane mixed a bit of West Coast surf rock into their music, which kept their tunes fresh instead of overly derivative.
As The Heartless Bastards took the stage, the audience had swelled to a decent size. I noticed a healthy blend of middle-aged rockers, frat boys and garden-variety hipsters—a testament to the universal appeal of the headliners. While they set up their instruments, I thought about the juxtaposition between Erika Wennerstrom’s aching vocals and the petite blond country girl focused on tuning her guitar. Even as her voice occasionally echoed through the venue as she tested the mic in front of her, it took me a moment to realize that the haunting moan that arrested my attention when I first listened to the Bastards originates from such a pleasant and non-threatening woman.
Despite a few technical difficulties before they started, the Bastards played with an unwavering intensity. They came to perform. Not much time was spent chatting with the crowd, nor did they take many breaks between songs. I appreciated this, as it effectively took my mind off of the beer that was now soaking my feet—compliments of the aforementioned shitheads.
They opened with “The Mountain,” which was the song that first lured me into their dark and dreamy world. Hearing the song live made for a much more stripped-down and emotional experience. They continued by showcasing songs from their new album, Arrow. When I talked to Wennerstrom a week previous to the show (check out the interview here), she mentioned that they wanted to capture the sound of their live music for their recent album. From what I heard, they completely succeeded. The acoustically driven rock anthem “Gotta Have Rock and Roll” and the slightly psychedelic “Simple Feeling” were the standouts that got the crowd moving, but it was the sunny love song “Only For You” that made my evening. It’s a perfect song for a hot summer night.
From there, the Bastards played some of their older material, and it was great to track the band’s musical evolution. They’ve maintained their Western roots, but they’ve also grown to implement some influences from ’70s rock. The incorporation of these different styles has become a serious strength for the Bastards. They’re building some solid momentum with their new album, and I hope they swing by Salt Lake a few more times while they continue on their current trajectory.