In fact, heart is what they have plenty of, and their recent show at the Knitting Factory was full of what they profess to lack. Fronted by singer-songwriter Erika Wennerstrom, the trio from Dayton, Ohio coasted through a set that was both contemplative and accessible.
The audience welcomed the band members loudly and with a very brief acknowledgement, the Bastards dropped right into their set with a brisk number from their latest release, All This Time . Though diminutive in stature, Wennerstrom's unique voice burst above the sounds from her own guitar and fellow band mates – drummer Mike Lamping and bassist Kevin Vaughn – to captivate the room.
After a warm reception, the band played album opener, “Into the Open,” a bouncy number with an electric piano intro that provided an opportunity for Wennerstrom to take to the ivories before widening up into an overdriven, head-nodding hop.
Just before the title track of the new album, Wennerstrom took a brief moment to introduce the song before strumming its jumpy, tonal rhythm on a beautiful antique-looking Gibson hollow body guitar.
Mixing up the set with material from their previous album, Stairs and Elevators, the Bastards played about an hour and a half worth of their style of fuzzy, emotive blues-rock. During “The Willsong,” the crowd visibly perked up and nodded heads with the straight single-chord groove driving them.
The crowd favorite was easily “Done Got Old,” during which, Wennerstrom wailed a soulful lament about getting on to a swinging backbeat provided by Vaughn and Lamping.
When they left the stage, the floor began to shake from stomping heels and chants demanding an encore. Upon return, Wennerstrom was smiling broadly and humbly thanked the audience before breaking into three more numbers from their first album.
The Heartless Bastards played a heartfelt set, and Wennerstrom in particular dug deep to hit the notes, her maw gaping to let out so much magnitude of voice. When it was all over, she bowed lightly, picked up her beer and quietly left the stage. —Rama Sobhani