Notes: Heartless Bastards, Echoplex, April 3 2012

Underneath the Sunset overpass and here I am now, back door, curbside, Glendale Boulevard, tri-wristband Echoplex guantlet chafing, regulating the blood to and fro my right hand. Three! Y’get one wristband to get in, one for the boozin’, one for the camera. Band it up and the fuck inside we go. Brian Lopez is finishing an opening set. He sounds alright. He is dressed flashy. The place is not too crowded. David Vandervelde is on next and he sounds great. And loud. His hair is one big long stringy mess of rock and roll, and he wears shades at 10pm, indoors. The place is moderately crowded. The next time I look up, Heartless Bastards have completed two songs and I am unable to move, for the front of the house is wall-to-wall people. Gone is the breezy elbow room of the Austin Convention Center’s Radio Day Stage, where I caught the band a couple weeks prior. I pick a trajectory near the side wall, do a sort of shuffly shoving-sidestep maneuver two dozen times in a row, veer slightly left and eventually find myself near the back bar. This is both a good and a bad thing: Good, it’s not suffocatingly crowded. Bad, the retaining wall directly in front of of the soundboard hides much of the stage, and one is forced to stare at an artistic rendition of Colonel Sanders in a g-string instead of the band providing the soundtrack.

G-stringed Sanders and fire marshall concerns aside, Erika Wennerstrom is top of it with this lineup tonight, belting it out, beefy vocals front and center, comfortably and confidently surfing on a trapezoidal soundspace incorporating Marc Bolan’s riffs, Joan Jett’s vocal punch (if Joan Jett could be slightly mysterious, lyrically speaking), Ann Wilson’s fearless wails and perhaps Bonnie Raitt’s common sense and down-home sensibilities. Goodness! This sound is waist-deep in the 1970s. Guitarist Mark Nathan pulls off a tasteful solo now and again – harnessed, restrained, maybe, but it works wonders and let’s face it, who on that stage would not be playing second fiddle to Erika’s voice? The entire band sounds tight and polished as they work their way through a set heavy with songs from Arrow, the new album on Partisan label. Those songs are more or less translated live note for note, inflection for inflection, and as that’s what we’ve all more or less assembled to hear, we all enjoy ourselves. Even the Colonel. Expect 2012 to be a breakout year for Erika and company.

Heartless Bastards play Conan tonight.