Heartless Bastards @ Urban Lounge 07.19 with Writer
Since releasing their sublime fourth album, Arrow, in February of last year, Heartless Bastards have been on a mean hot streak, so it only seems fitting that the Urban Lounge was also a sweltering mess inside on Friday night. Despite the humid, jungle-like conditions, the four-piece group held their foot down on the pedal and played a stellar hour-and-a-half set to a packed venue of loud and restless bastards.
The brother-duo Writers, a Brooklyn band by way of San Diego, opened the show with a loud set of catchy, Wilco-ish tunes. It’s always amazing to see siblings playing together in a band, as their tight chemistry on stage is something most bands spend years and years aspiring to achieve. With help from a battalion of pedals and gadgets, Andy Ralph concocted some pretty groovy soundscapes to emanate from his guitar amplifier, but was also able to keep a strong groove for his brother, James Ralph, to build on and thrash away on the drums. It can’t be an easy gig to open for a veteran group like Heartless Bastards, but these cats certainly impressed the hell out of the crowd, as they received a nice ovation after playing a loud and intense 45-minute set.
Taking the stage a little after 11 p.m., the audience erupted as Erika Wennerstrom and crew picked up their guitars and stepped up to the mics. The Heartless Bastards also brought along an additional female singer who sang some great, tight harmonies on a few tunes. Joining the petite Wennerstrom, who wisely dawned some short shorts and a tank top in the muggy atmosphere, guitarist Mark Nathan, bassist Jesse Ebaugh and drummer Dave Colvin dove headfirst into their set. After just a few tunes, the Austin-based band quickly demonstrated just why they’re one of the best rock bands to emerge from the indie scene in recent years, with each member possessing strong, seasoned chops, which generate a thick, but tight sound overall.
As Colvin kicked off the drum intro for “You Got To Have Rock ‘N Roll,” the fourth song in their set, I had already forgot about the sweat building up on my forehead, and was only concerned with the fat, killer guitar riffs blaring from the speakers. It was kind of funny to look around at the crowd, most of who were also perspiring to some degree, and see their eyes transfixed on the band, as they could care less about the rising temperature inside the club.
One of the things I was curious about heading into the night, was how Wennerstrom’s amazing set of pipes were holding up, as the band is approaching the halfway point of their summer tour. Studio cuts of songs like “Only For You” are fucking timeless, but I know Wennerstrom has struggled in the past keep her voice strong on long tours and not strain her chords. Therefore, I was truly in awe all night long as Wennerstrom’s powerful vocals never faltered, with hardly any signs of wear or fatigue.
Although Heartless Bastards gave soulful performances of tunes like “Parted Ways” and “Only For You,” some of the true highlights of the night included longer cuts from Arrow, such as “The Arrow Killed The Beast” and “Down In The Canyon.” These songs may be a bit slower tempo, but the band really settled into a kind of hypnotic groove, which seemed to captivate the rowdy audience and shut them up a little bit.
After playing for well over an hour straight, the band took a couple of minutes to cool off in the green room before coming out to play two more songs. The encore began with the subdued number “Low Low Low,” and finished with the song “Gray,” from the band’s 2005 debut album Stairs and Elevators. The band was very gracious, as they thanked Writer for a solid opening set, as well as giving a shout out to local artist Travis Bone, who created a concert poster for the show.
Wennerstrom and the band shook hands with the sweaty crowd as they left the stage, with a gig up in Missoula, Montana the following night to head off for. It may not have been the most optimal or comfortable of conditions inside, but Heartless Bastards still delivered a phenomenal set at the Urban Lounge on Friday night.
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