On April 2, the Heartless Bastards took the stage at the Belly Up Tavern. ACDC belted through the mains as the four members stepped to their instrument -- drums, bass and two guitars -- the bare-bone essentials for their updated classic rock fervor. They opened the eve with "the Will Song," off their debut, Stairs and Elevators, a sludgy, riff-laden rocker on which lead singer Erica Wennerstrom's voice blooms immensely over big drum fills and slow. driving guitar wails.
The band really came into its own in Solana Beach on the fresh material off of its recently released fourth record, Arrow. Wennerstrom switched to acoustic guitar on "Only for You," exposing the full range of her voice via a cautious love song. A wispy falsetto entered by the second verse and landed confidently over the summertime groove. On the radio friendly "Parted Ways," Wennerstrom sang road-weary lyrics, sweeping the blond hair from her face and charging forward on the acoustic. By the end of the song, the band had converged on the drum kit, with Mark Nathan delivering blistering, yet arranged guitar solos while Dave Colvin pushed the song's crescendo with furiously paced drum work.
One of the set's highlights was Arrow's opener, "Marathon." It started with Wennerstrom alone, strumming delicately and singing, washed in a single ray of amber light. She sighed, "And we're all racing for our own reasons," as a second guitar entered. The bass added a pulse as the drums painted ambient with cymbal flourishes. A snare played with mallets entered, giving room for the dynamic to keep growing. Bassist Jesse Ebaugh and guest Heidi Johnson layered in gentle harmonies. When the song reached its pinnacle, it was immense. And when the brevity of the peak subsided into silence, there was a clear feeling of an audience that had just seen something special.
On "Arrow Killed the Beast," the Heartless Bastards conjured a feel from another time. Dave Colvin played a güiro that hit a reverbed-out snare, and the effect was haunting. His playing through the night had elements of fevered rock & roll as well as the tasty approach of a scholar. Embellished by three-part harmonies, this was another highlight of the show. The band swaggered through the early glam confidence of "Got to Have Rock n Roll." They switched instruments on "the Mountain," with Jesse Ebaugh taking duties on lap steel and Mark Nathan providing a driving bass line.
When all was said and done, the Heartless Bastards had played a nearly two-hour set of engaging and dynamic rock & roll. Pounding drums, aggressive guitars, heavy bass lines and an amazing, engaging vocalist, The Heartless Bastards embody all the best elements of rock & roll, past, present and future.