As a band starts a tour there are inevitably bumps encountered along the way. Breakdowns, blunders, mistakes and mishaps are all part of the experience.
However, if you want to call Heartless Bastards' singer/guitarist Erika Wennerstrom replacing the batteries in her in-ear monitors during the middle of the set a hiccup then I guess I'll give you that one. Otherwise the performance went off without the proverbial hitch much to the delight of local fans.
For their second show of their 2012 tour to support their new album, Arrow, the Austin-based quartet stopped the van by the Firebird last night and gave the St. Louis audience a defacto record release party.
The record, their first for Brooklyn-based Partisan Records, hits stores next Tuesday, February 14. However, St. Louis received a special treat to have the chance to purchase the album directly from the band nearly a week early. The merch table featured the album on both vinyl and compact disc as well as the rest of the band's back catalog on vinyl.
With a set that stretched to roughly an hour-and-a-half, the group played the new album -- which clocks in at 52 minutes -- in its entirety. Mixing up the running order of the record slightly, the Heartless Bastards recreated the sound of their new work flawlessly. When most bands arrive in town they've been on the road for a while and frankly can be a bit worn down from the process. The benefit to being on the road for an extended period is usually that the band is tight and worked out the kinks of their new songs. Last night, however, Wennerstrom and company were fresh and ready to go, yet sounded like they've been on playing shows daily for two months. Indeed, a great combination.
The band kept a busy schedule from the minute they rolled into town. At midday, the group stopped by the studios of 88.1 KDHX to record an in-studio session and an interview with DJ Chris Bay. Later, at the show, Bay related to me a story of how the band had found the new copy of Rolling Stone lying on a table. Flipping through the magazine, one of the band members' found the review of Arrow written by Will Hermes. Reading the review aloud, the four members laughed at the line where the writer referred to the band's new song "Down in the Canyon" as "Countrified Death Metal." They moved on with their day, but didn't forget. Following the stop at the radio station, the group made their way over to Vintage Vinyl for an in-store appearance before heading back to the Firebird.
By the time the band took the stage at 10:15 p.m., the venue was mostly full. The floor in front of the stage was tightly packed with patrons and the bartenders kept busy with lines all night -- a great crowd for a Wednesday night in February.
Opening with the lead track on the new album, "Marathon," the band set a slow, steady pace to begin the evening. With the song's slow build to a fiery finish, the band telegraphed what would happen for the rest of the night.
As Wennerstrom held down the vocals, rhythm guitar and an occasional piano part, the rest of her band worked hard behind her. Their rehearsal time was evident as the songs were polished. Matt Nathan contributed the stellar lead work he provided on Arrow, his first studio album as guitarist. His lead work from his Gibson SG dazzled all night.
Usually it takes a special drummer to impress in the live setting. Most take the route of holding down the rhythm in a matter-of-fact necessity to keep the music together. But, Bastards' drummer, Dave Colvin makes the most of his time on stage to show off his incredible skills behind the drum kit. Colvin's drumming adds a dimension to the band's live sound that stands above most rock shows today. His playing harkens back to the drummers of the '70s and '80s without the cheesy oversized drumset or theatric fluff.
To great effect the band even does their best to acknowledge the state of the current economy of touring band by employing their lovely merch girl, Heidi Johnson, on backing vocals.
While the group moved back to touch on older material a couple of times during the main set, the majority of time was spent introducing the new material to the audience. At one point they performed seven straight songs from Arrow as if they were playing one of those shows that older bands play on the anniversary of their classic record.
The main set ended with the two most powerful songs on the new record, "Late in the Night" and "Down in the Canyon" - a duo classic rock scorchers that fit with the best the '70s had to offer. Before playing "Canyon" bassist Jesse Ebagh related the story of reading the Rolling Stone review earlier that day, the band put more fire and brimstone into the performance to thumb their nose at the legendary rock publication - a fitting end to the set.
After a few minutes of the audience cheering for more, the band came back out to play a two song encore, which included "Gray" from their first album, Stairs and Elevators, before ending for the night.
As live shows go the Heartless Bastards left town a solid positive experience filled with energy and excellent chops. Although the new album is full of strong, compelling material that the band performs to near perfection, I would have liked to hear a few more songs from their other three records. A sight critique for sure, but necessary to give the band something to strive for on the rest of their tour. If they continue to kill like they did last night more and more people will take notice.