Heartless Bastards Lola's Friday, March 9
Before a sold-out Lola's in Ft. Worth on Friday night, Austin's Heartless Bastards simply dazzled, playing almost every song from their excellent new release, Arrow, as well as a few standouts from 2009 breakthrough The Mountain. While Wennerstrom was understandably the star, the band's rhythm section gave amplified life to each tune as they played in lock-step with one another all night.
An unusual aspect of the evening was not the arrangement of songs, but of the band on the stage. Wennerstrom took her place on the far left while bassist Jesse Ebaugh and lead guitarist Mark Nathan performed to the far right, leaving a gap in the very middle of the stage. A female harmony singer was brought out for a song or two, but other than that, the spot typically reserved for the band's lead was left vacant, forcing people to shift their attention to the magnetic Wennerstrom's side of the stage. One had to wonder how obvious it was to Ebaugh and Nathan, both fantastic players, that they were losing the battle of collecting audience eyes.
Aside from a couple times where Wennerstrom strained for some higher notes, her voice was nothing short of an open-throated force of nature. "Skin and Bone," a tune about returning to Wennerstrom's Dayton hometown after years of change, was a fun, acoustic stomper while "The Mountain" was as majestic as its name implies, thanks in large part to the atmospherics Ebaugh's pedal steel provided. While a back-to-back playing of slower tunes "The Arrow and the Beast" and "Low Low Low" dulled what was a fairly bombastic set at that time, it failed to quell the overall quality of the set, or the mood of the adoring, cramped audience.
By the way: Local quartet The Cush put on a sweet set, easily outplaying the band that came on after them, California's The Fling. The young garage-rock quintet was fine, but it would've been nice to have a few more songs from The Cush.
Random note: Sunday night's Gary Clark Jr. show at Lola's was also sold out.