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Heartless Bastards

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Heartless Bastards Rock First Encore at Mohawk’s Reopening

 On Thursday, May 27th, Heartless Bastards kicked off Mohawk’s first sold out show since the apocalypse. Demand was high enough for Mohawk to add a second performance to the weekend’s roster. The venue’s capacity was set at 50%, approximately 450 people, so the sold-out show felt comfortable and spacious (and wow, wait until you see the renovated bathrooms at Mohawk). 


Tender Things opens the show with country, hippie charm. From Northern Kentucky, they toted their 6-piece to Austin including a fiddle player and a cowboy on a pedal steel guitar. The Austin crowd receives this country folk getup with open hearts and roaring applause. They play songs from their new album, How to Make a Fool, most notable was “I Don’t Know How to Love You.” The atmosphere is pure elation and joy as this is the first live show for most folks, especially at a venue that feels like home.

 

Everything feels new but with a familiar air. Austin has been home to Heartless Bastards since 2007, and it feels poignant and right that they play one of the christening shows of live music’s return. Energy climbs as Heartless Bastards take the stage with lead singer, Erika Wennerstrom in a black-velvet-fringe romper with rainbow stripes. Wennerstrom announces that their new album will be released this fall 2021. They play new songs from the upcoming album, songs drenched in rock and marked by Wennerstrom’s throaty voice and lyrical talent and featuring sublime guitar moments by Lauren Gurgiolo, another Austin treasure. Wennerstrom sings, “it’s a beautiful life if you let it be,” from the new album’s namesake track, “A Beautiful Life.” 

 

Among the new sounds, old favorites are mixed in like “Only For You,” and “The Mountain,” as well as “Extraordinary Love” from Wennerstrom’s solo album, Sweet Unknown. They gracefully and appropriately close with “Revolution,” their 2020 release, before the audience beckons them for a mutually deserved encore. 

 


The bands continually pronounce and pour out their gratitude to play music, the crowd showers the musicians with cheers and hollers, the full moon rises in the Eastern sky. Half way through the set, Wennerstrom seals the moment by saying we should never take these times together for granted. Both bands will be performing at Austin City Limits this fall season.

 

-- Mel Green

Photo credit: David Brendan Hall

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Heartless Bastards Release New Single "Revolution"

 

As an American people, we’re reckoning with what the likes of a modern-day revolution will look like. There’s no telling if, when or where - but the Heartless Bastards would like to take this moment to remind you that you control it in your mind. Back with their first release in over five years since breaking through to the Billboard 200 with Arrow, the band has an answer for the moment with their new single “Revolution”.

Clocking at over six minutes, “Revolution” paints a broad stroke of melodic brilliance as it ponders what brought us all to the brink. Name-checking Big Brother is part of bandleader Erika Wennerstrom’s Bowery-via-Americana method of marrying the merits of class-checking punk rock to class-obliterating folk. She catalogs being watched and solicited by the other while fuming about the disparity between the haves and have-nots - it works out like Melissa Etheridge covering a Patti Smith deep cut.

In choosing to return with a call for revolution, the Heartless Bastards don’t abandon any of the cred they’ve built over the last two decades. Instead, they retrain their focus and aim a little higher. Sonically, the tune starts out as typical fodder for musical call-to-arms: languid, easy and slightly psychedelic in the same vein of later Lennon compositions. Then, all hell begins to break loose.

As the lyrics get angrier, the music builds to match. Tension vents like steam as the song gets louder and louder. Lyrics transform to stream-of-conscious blurts, like a folkloric take on the Ramones’ “Ignorance Is Bliss”. The lyrical cadence suits the subject matter and the song extremely well, as rambling about commercialized life, happiness pills and gilded political lies is less a dissociating experience than it is a heartening wake-up call in this context.

After laying down the state of the world as she sees it, Wennerstrom frames her thesis in six words: “The revolution is in your mind.” That is to say, we all control it as much as we control our thoughts and actions. We are the generators of our own compassion and empathy, and we pass our energy along to the next generation after we go. You can hear the longing in the extra millisecond Wennerstrom pauses when she sings, “Do you...remember?” It’s a desire in her for this song to start something new, to gin up some trouble, and to replace fear with hope. And it’s the idea that we’re more than capable of doing so.

- Mike Floeck

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