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Here is where you will not find me on a Monday night: in a bar listening to a band — unless that band happens to be the Heartless Bastards. Which is why — along with a few serious fans, some potential ones and the ubiquitous drunk guy — I could recently be seen front and center at Sticky Fingerz on a weeknight, transfixed by this transcendent power trio.
If you sometimes wonder, as I do, “Where is the real rock these days!?” singer, guitarist and all-around badass Erika Wennerstrom has the answer — one sung in an achingly soulful, gravelly voice. You've got your female pop vocalists and riot grrl acts, and then, thankfully, there is Wennerstrom, who conjures the full force of a brewing storm from her small, muscled frame. When you think of today's rock goddesses, someone like Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs might come to mind, but compared to Wennerstrom everything else is just a bunch of screeching and spectacle.
Though they now call Austin home, the HBs are originally from Cincinnati, and might be the best thing to come out of Ohio since Guided by Voices. It's no-frills, straight-up rock, the kind that makes you want to drive recklessly with the wind in your hair, get drunk, tear things up, or, in my case (mature, responsible adult that I am) crank up the Ipod and go for a swift run. When Wennerstrom sings, “I keep on movin' forward even when I'm down,” you feel like pumping your fists in the air even if it makes you look stupid (or jogging that extra loop). When she howls out her (surprisingly upbeat) lyrics with that kind of yearning and passion, the response is visceral.
It was the band's first time playing in Little Rock, and judging by the enthusiastic, albeit small, crowd, they may be back. They played songs from their first two albums and new ones too, most memorably “The Mountain,” which can be heard on their Myspace page. Look for it to anchor the HBs' third album, due out sometime in the near future.
The opening act, Langhorne Slim, a folk-blues-rock guy from Brooklyn, successfully warmed up the crowd with his showmanship and strong vocal performance. At one point he climbed up on the drum stand and tried to hang from the stage lights before a concerned-looking bar employee rushed to the stage to put an end to those shenanigans.