The Heartless Bastards, a rising alt-garage-rock buzz band from Austin (by way of Ohio) made their first visit to the Alamo City last night, with a rocking performance at Sam's Burger Joint. The band, fronted by powerhouse vocalist/guitarist Erika Wennerstrom, hit the stage around 9:45 p.m. and delivered a 100-minute crowd-pleasing show.
People were kind of just standing around for the first couple songs, but then “Witchy Poo”, an up-tempo rocker from the band's new album The Mountain, kicked things into high gear. Wennerstrom has an old soul vibe about her that infuses the band's sound with a bluesy authenticity and it was oozing out of this tune.
The band members appear to be in transient state of rotation, with none of them being fully identified on the band's websites. But the drummer rocks with a ferocious abandon that recalls Foo Fighter Taylor Hawkins. Later, the bassist says he has been to San Antonio before and asks if anyone's been to “a weird place called Taco Land?”
“Has anyone ever hit their head on that tree?” he asks, receiving cheers. The bassist then steps over and sits down at the pedal steel guitar while the second guitarist moves over to the bass. The pedal steel is a key element for the next tune, the epic title track from The Mountain, one of the most compelling tunes to come across the airwaves in 2009 so far. Wennerstrom's vocals take on an added majestic quality with the ethereal pedal steel behind her.
The band delivered a rocking sound throughout the night, although it was hard not to feel that they could go to an even higher level with a full-time pedal steel and/or keyboard player to help round out their sound. After a 90-minute set, the first two encores are delivered on acoustic guitars, with “Be So Happy” serving as another highlight from The Mountain. The full band comes back for the last song, with Wennerstrom introducing it as the first song she wrote for the band. It's another winner, with the crowd rocking out right along with the band.
The merch table sells a Heartless Bastards poster with a pair of scissors about to cut a rainbow. Like the band's name, it seems to play on a certain sense of hipster irony, for the Heartless Bastards are anything but heartless.
Those who were looking for further late night musical entertainment found it at The Farm, one of San Antonio's most intriguing venues. Run by a native San Antonian who set it up after moving back from San Francisco, the venue is a big house with a New Orleans-style French architecture, a recording studio, and bands playing in the living room.
Last night, Dance Like Robots put on a rocking show that didn't start until almost 1 a.m, but filled the night with high energy and psychedelic flavor. The group combines an alt-indie-rock guitar sound of bands like Built to Spill, Pavement, Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr., with an electronica-ish psyche jam vibe of bands like Sound Tribe Sector 9 and the Disco Biscuits. The instrumental set was short but sweet, and this group looks like one to watch. Who knew San Antonio had its own jamband?