When I travel, I sometimes have a perfect magical moment; that scene that takes your breath away; that perfect piecing together of place and space that you’ll never forget.
That experience is usually followed by this thought: “If I had to leave right now, and return to reality, that would be ok. I’ve had my moment.”At the Heartless Bastards show at Webster Hall, that moment came two minutes after the band took the stage. It was magical. And it turned out that magic was everywhere to be found.
Magic is starting your set with a 1931 recording of your lead singer and guitarist’s grandmother singing (Erika Wennerstrom). Magic is feeling like you’re at an outdoor rock festival even though you’re indoors in the middle of Manhattan. Magic is drummer David Colvin’s perfect bowl cut. Magic is wondering if a band can really play every song with the same intensity as the first one, and then watching them do it. Magic is Erika’s dazzling golden GIbson perfectly matching with her gold cuff link and her fringe lined top. Magic is knowing that if Webster Hall had no curfew, you’d be dancing and moving and grooving and rocking out to the music of the Heartless Bastards until the wee hours of morning.
Alas, Webster DOES have a curfew, and so the magic had to theoretically end. But not before the Heartless Bastards knocked everyone sideways with their set, and not before they seemed to make the lyrics of the “Lovin’s Spoonful’s song a little too real:
Do you believe in magic, in a young girl’s heart?
How the music can free her, whenever it starts
And it’s magic, if the music is groovy
It makes you feel happy like an old-time movie
I’ll tell you about the magic and it’ll free your soul
But it’s like tryin’ to tell a stranger ’bout rock and roll
Of course, as with any performance, there were moments in which the band just flirted with the magic. Sprinkled here and there were the inevitable ebbs and flows of energy (what goes up must come down). While one song was unforgettable, the next one could be a perfect background track. And yet, the next song would snap you back, such as a featured song from Winter in the Blood, a movie for which The Heartless Bastards did the entire soundtrack. It’s as if the vocals and instruments snaked their way through the wires and hit our eardrums, tapping us on the shoulder and reminding us to kick our heels up and and sway back into the show. Soon, the whole audience would be smiling again..
Erika’s vocals are the clear highlight here; the reason people rock out. And, she was lucky enough to have a perfect mix in the center of ambitious cymbal crashes, maracas, and electric guitars. Her vocal mixing could have had one of three results: They could have been given too much juice by the engineer; They could have dissolved amongst her bandmates’ instruments, or they could be sandwiched in the middle. At Webster, Erika’s vocals were in the middle just like us: in the middle of a rockin’ room, in the middle of Manhattan, in the middle of a rainstorm, in the middle of a song, in the middle of the Bastards.
The Heartless Bastards were accompanied on stage with a mesmerizing light design. Blue and red lights would help give some space to a tune; A white light light could create the perfect isolation of Erika’s hair and guitar. And there was a moment, when that white light silhouetted her blonde strands and the psychedelic vibes of the 70’s found their way into the tune and Erika flicked her wrist effortlessly amongst the frets … there was a moment when the audience knew it: They believed in magic.
The band’s fifth record Restless Ones, produced by Grammy Award-winning producer John Congleton (St. Vincent, Angel Olsen, Swans) was released on June 16 via Partisan Records.