SXSW: Heartless Bastards just kicked my ass

It's the first official day of South by Southwest (see, David? I'm referring to it by its full name despite the fact that everyone here is calling it "South By") and the first round of day parties are in full swing. Downtown Austin is crawling with sunglass-clad hipsters and the main drag of downtown Austin, 6th Street, has been blocked off with orange barriers to facilitate the massive influx of pedestrians. I've just returned from a Paste and Brooklyn Vegan-sponsored day party that had a lineup of bands ranging across the indie spectrum, including radio-friendly singer-songwriter Greg Laswell; indie pop septuplet Anathallo; grating, vaudevillian pianist Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls; and alt-country bands Samantha Crain and the Midnight Shivers and Port O'Brien. But none of the bands on the bill came close to the intensity and talent of Dayton, Ohio natives Heartless Bastards.

Heartless Bastards' lead singer Erika Wennerstrom sings with the cool intensity of '80s rock pioneers like Chrissie Hynde and Linda Perry, and it coalesces perfectly with the slow-burning punk music pumped out by her three bandmates. By the time they took the stage, the crowd at the Paste day party had swelled to its largest size yet and people were crowding into the tented area outside the Radio Room to catch a glimpse of the band in action. Most other bands on the bill were only given half-hour slots before being shuffled off and replaced by the next act, but the Heartless Bastards played for over 50 minutes, partly due to the demand of the cheering crowd.

Highlights from their set included "Sway," "Out at Sea," and the title track off of their new CD, The Mountain. Of the six bands I've seen so far, this was by far my favorite. Check out a video of them performing "Out at Sea" on Letterman last month:

More to come soon. For live, up-to-the-minute SXSW news, you can also follow me on Twitter and tune into the Mischke broadcast every weekday this week, where I will be calling in from the festival.