I wanna be Erika Wennerstrom when I grow up.
The nice married gentleman standing next to me up against the Cradle stage said that his young son calls her the little woman with the big voice, and it’s an utterly correct description — Erika Wennerstrom is a slight woman, not weighing much more than her electric guitar, and she’s got a voice you can hear down the block when she’s really belting. It’s taken me a while to come to the Bastards; I’ve tried and tried, but it wasn’t until I got an advance of Arrow that I was hooked.
They’re often described as a garage rock band, but on Arrow, they’re a garage rock band with a twang and a bottle slide, and a drawl in Wennerstrom’s powerful voice. And last night, all of those things were in full force: Wennerstrom’s incredible vocal talent, her increasingly strong songwriting (the line i need a little bit of whiskey and a little bit of time to ease my troubled mind just slays me, and “Got To Have Rock And Roll” is one of the best singles of 2012 thus far), and every one of her band mates, who are all epically talented musicians. The crowd at the Cradle was flat, but Heartless Bastards were on fire from the moment they stepped on stage and ripped into “Marathon” with very little ado.
The whole set was like that — Wennerstrom and her guys throwing themselves around the stage, her hair flying and her voice soaring and the guitars and drums just searing through the freshly raised ceilings at the Cradle. I’ve had a lot of people tell me, upon hearing that I couldn’t get into the Bastards, that I just needed to see them live. I got into them, finally, and I’ve seen them live, and they are right, right, right. Erika Wennerstrom is a badass earthshaking frontperson, her band is amazing, and I wanna be her when I grow up.
Long Beach’s The Fling are touring as Heartless Bastards’ opener, and I was super glad of the chance to finally see them live, as I was terrifically fond of their 2010 release When the Madhouses Appear — they were a good time live, just as I had also been promised. Shaggy-haired frontman Dustin has an unexpected charisma for a guy who spends most of his set hiding behind his bangs, and live their strengths are the same as in studio, peerless harmonies and fierce songwriting. They’re currently road-testing some new songs for what I can only assume what will be Madhouses‘ follow-up, and there’s a complexity to the unrecorded stuff that doesn’t surprise me at all, given how complex and surprising the songs on Madhouses are. They’re a young band who’s still growing up, and I love hearing it in their music.
And they closed their set with the gorgeous, shattering “Wanderingfoot”, which was the only song I wanted to hear specifically from them, and which was as good as I expected it to be and better.
Carrboro’s own Flesh Wounds opened, and the more I see the wild surf-hardcore project from Montgomery Morris and Laura King, the more they completely charm me. They’re fierce and insane and I’m pretty sure that in their 20 minute set last night, Montgomery broke at least five strings over two guitars. I adore them. They’re playing at All Day Records in Carrboro on Sunday at 5pm, with Spider Bags and a couple of touring punk bands on their ways to SXSW. Get there. See them. They’re nuts.
Full photo set is here.