I must admit I’ve been feeling a bit guilty about my fandom of Heartless Bastards in recent years… I’ve never really gotten over my mega-crush on 2009’s The Mountain… and I haven’t really given their other work much of a fair shot… or even much of a listen. It’s not so much that I didn’t like what I heard… just that the psychedelic garage Americana of their third LP has just had me intoxicated for years. However, the band managed to change my focus last Tuesday, when they kicked off their summer tour with a stop at Union Transfer. While the band did include a few numbers from The Mountain (such as, “Hold Your Head High,” a gospel for punks of sorts and “Out at Sea,” their most anthemic road-tripper/sea-swimmer.) and some earlier tunes (“Gray” and the title track of All This Time), but it was 2012’s Arrow that was the focal point.[youtube http://youtu.be/71mt0FcgGI8]
This wasn’t actually the first time that the Cincinnati outfit have been in-town promoting their latest album. They played Union Transfer last February, shortly after Arrow was released. However, their set was far more expansive, thoroughly covering the peaks and valleys of their catalogue (I’ve often complained that between the “drinkingness” of Heartless Bastards’ sound and the length of their sets, that being able to walk out of a Bastards’ gig can sometimes be a challenge.) However, last Tuesday they produced their tightest and most concise headlining set I’ve seen yet (In addition, Union Transfer was at its most intimate setup, which… let’s just face it, kind of looks like a barn… or, the perfect setting for Erika Wennerstrom and crew.)[youtube http://youtu.be/DvAA36bbr4Q]
The 90-minute set seemed to focus on (although that might just be in my head) the greatest moments of Arrow. And while I still don’t think their fourth LP embodies the “brilliant” amalgamation that is The Mountain, the more stripped-down, traditional blues rock of Arrow did make for the majority of the evening’s highlights; including the sonically sunny existential introspection of “Parted Ways;” the dusty, rusty, and catchy Southern Rock of “Skin and Bone” and “Late in the Night;” and the epic, Sabbath-esque balladry of “Down in the Canyon.” While the band are still a long way from being classically show-stopping “performers,” and still, at their most pure, seem as though they should be performing behind the chicken-wired stage of a dive bar, they’ve managed to transform their aesthetic into a legitimately badass Rock’N’Roll spectacle. They’ll be on the road for the next several weeks, including an August 3rd set at Chicago’s Lollapalooza, so if Moonshine isn’t quite your thing, but you want to know what it’s like to experience what it is to be a shit-kicker, even just for one night, their live show might be the quickest way to get there.