ACL '09: Heartless Barstards' Erika Wennerstrom Soothes Our Souls

It wasn't the heat so much as it was the humidity--just like they say, really. But this humidity... on this day... in this mud... it was all pretty overwhelming at first. While their feet dragged through the mud, the rest of the attendees' bodies were forced to swim through the thick, muggy air of the early afternoon at Austin City Limits.

But then, a respite--not in the humidity, but rather in spirit. Before a fairly disappointing crowd at the Dell Stage just a short walk from the festival's Barton Springs entrance, Austin's Heartless Bastards offered a sound befitting of the environment. Heavy but not too heavy, dirty but not quite muddy, alt-country enough but with a heavy dose of classic American rock 'n' roll thrown in for good measure, the Erika Wennerstrom-led act seemed almost too good a fit for the circumstances surrounding their show.

Despite still riding high off the band's excellent, earlier-this-year-released album The Mountain, it was tough to say if too many members of the audience were all that familiar with the band's work. Rather, as the crowds applauded at the end of each song, they appeared to do so with an air of pleasant discovery, rather than with a sense of satisfaction at the album's recreations.

And it's tough not to like what Heartless Bastards brings to the table--especially when talking about frontwoman Erika Wennerstrom. Girl can flat out sing. And for those who stopped by the band's set, her husky, whiskey-soaked voice soothed the crowds into submission, affirming the audience's increasingly optimistic beliefs that the day would be fine after all and that maybe the conditions weren't so bad after all.