Heartless Bastards at the Varsity, 7/27/10

Heartless Bastards
Varsity Theater
July 27, 2010

"We love playing in Minneapolis," lead singer Erika Wennerstrom said toward the end of Heartless Bastards set, and she must have meant it -- it was at least the fourth time during the band's performance that she remarked how happy they were to be back. She even mentioned how happy she was that the Varsity had refinished their bathrooms. "It's like a combination of The Hobbit and an Ewok village," she said, laughing.

The band has spent the entire month of July on the road with Twin Cities-based boys-made-good Peter Wolf Crier, and it was clear by Wennerstrom's expressions of adoration for the city and the band, their violinist's sporting of a Peter Wolf Crier t-shirt, and PWC's Peter Pisano grinning and bobbing just off stage throughout the set that the two bands must be enjoying their time on tour together.

Heartless Bastard's set got off to a somewhat shaky start, with Wennerstrom plucking out the entirely wrong notes on opener "Done Got Old" and causing her to restart the song and the band rushing its way through the first handful of tunes. Even Wennerstrom's tank top straps didn't seem to want to cooperate toward the beginning of the night, slipping down her arms as she tried to focus on her guitar playing.

Heartless Bastards at the Varsity, 7/27/10
Photo by Ben Clark

Once the band got warmed up, however, they fell into a groove that lasted for the rest of their hour-and-a-half set. With a more relaxed pace to the songs, Wennerstrom took the time to sustain her melodies in all the right places, slowing the tempo mid-chorus to sing passionately above the din. The band responded by slowing down or stopping all together, as if holding their collective breath until she was finished singing her most poignant phrase, before launching back into their tight, bluesy rock riffs. It was a beautiful give and take between lead singer and rhythm section, and it provided a lush and pliable backdrop for Wennerstrom's throaty, captivating wail.

The momentum continued to push forward as the band brought out their violinist Zy Orange Lyn for a set of country-tinged tunes like "I Swallowed a Dragonfly" and the sparse and gripping "So Quiet," and Wennerstrom lamented that it was their last night on the road with Lyn.

As their set wore on, Heartless Bastards took more and more liberties with their dynamics, ebbing into sweet and soft melodic breaks and flowing into raucous climaxes. They played with a tightness that only comes from performing night after night on tour, and by the end of their main set the band was as enthralling as I'd ever seen them.

Heartless Bastards at the Varsity, 7/27/10
Photo by Ben Clark

After a quick respite backstage the band returned with Pisano in tow, and together with opener the Builders and the Butchers' Ryan Sollee they sang a beautiful, harmonic rendition of "Could Be So Happy," apparently a tradition on this tour. Though Peter Wolf Crier didn't play with the Heartless Bastards on this tour stop (they opted instead to book shows tonight at the Fetus and Saturday at the Lowertown Music Festival), the show still provided a glimpse into the local band's adventures on the national playing field.

"We've really loved being on tour with Peter Wolf Crier," Wennerstrom said. "Good music, and good people. What could be better?"

Critic's bias: Heartless Bastards are one of my favorite discoveries of the last few years.
The crowd: Young and lacking in show experience. A pair of dudes insisted on yelling ironically between every song, screaming "More awesome!" and "This is good!" at the top of their lungs.
Overheard in the crowd: I couldn't hear anything over those yelling dudes.
Random notebook dump: I only caught the tail end of the Builders and the Butchers' set, and I don't know that I would pay to see them again. Unfortunately, that also means I missed all of opener Alpha Consumer's set, but Heartless Bastards praised Alpha's set more than once during their performance so it must have been pretty damn good.

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