TVD Package Deal: The Heartless Bastards with Vandaveer at IOTA, 7/22

The Heartless Bastards—aren’t.

They are rock n roll, the kind you miss before they’re gone. I am already reaching for the car radio as “Out at Sea” fades. Immediately I want to go back, go back and repeat that catchy riff, the charm of a full female lead, the tormented call of Erika Wennerstrom. These intoxicating psychedelic garage rockers played one of many acoustic tour dates Friday, July 22nd, at IOTA.

Vandaveer was a 9am addition to the show. “I received a text at 9am from IOTA wondering if I could open for The Heartless Bastards tonight. My reply, ‘yes!’” says Vandaveer, his fingers moving nimbly across his guitar, well rested after three weeks since his last live gig.

I’ve grown accustomed to his local fan base (but tonight was THB’s night), and his partner in crime Rose Guerin. Nevertheless, he sounded confident, not needing the crowd or Guerin to accompany him on every tune. A few too many songs were puttied together with “doo oo oos” and “la la las,” but even so, he delivered a solid performance, and for those who had low or no expectations of an opener, they received a colossal bonus in Vandaveer (and I’m a sucker for John Prine covers).

Sloppy yet thoughtful, The Heartless Bastards’ sound transports you through Colvin’s steady pulse, Ebaugh’s weighty bassline, and Nathan’s wailing slide; they force you to romanticize rock ‘n’ roll the way they do. Wennerstrom’s throaty roar steals you to the late ’60s of Led Zepplin, with hints of bluegrass and folk hurled in, and it’s inspiring to hear, to be taken back to a time when everyone agreed that rock n roll was cutting edge and exciting.

They break into “The Will Song” from their first album Stairs and Elevators, immediately remembered and beloved by the audience. They then shift to the prized “Searching for the Ghost” from All This Time and move smartly to their most recent album The Mountain (released in 2009) with revival song “Hold Your Head High” and “The [Dark and Majestic] Mountain.” They did a gorgeous cover of Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” which she admits she “only remembers The Byrds’ version,” but we will forgive her that. (They did release it as a single.)

Prior to attending this show, I thought, let’s see if her voice sounds like this… LIVE! It does. It’s better. Wennerstrom is lucky she smiles a lot, and that she has been graced with a sweet stage demeanor and warm sense of humor, because her voice—it scares me. Like a child touching a hot stove, I can listen to Wennerstrom on repeat; it thrills me.

Remember singing old rock songs? We all thought we sounded like Wennerstrom, like a wounded fiery phoenix full of angst and terror, bursting to reap our vocal revenge, but let’s face it, we didn’t. But man, she does, and I am envious. In realizing my belting falls short (so embarrassingly short), I’ve taken to turning The Heartless Bastards up reallyloud, to drown out my squeaking wood thrush and make room for Wennerstrom’s blood curdling vulture-pterodactyl.

I might call them heartless for not playing “Out at Sea,” one of my personal favorites, but I will bite my tongue and look forward to seeing them again, next time, plugged in and turned up.

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