Heartless Bastards Majestic Theater September 23rd 2021 - photo by Dave Robbins
Dressed in cowboy boots and a black rainbow-trimmed jump-suit, singer-songwriter and moving force behind Heartless Bastards, Erika Wennerstrom embodied the band’s power-roots love-in ethos, leading the crowd down that rocky road to the Promised Land with unrepentant strength and six-string wisdom. Playing the title cut to their latest album, “A Beautiful Life,” Wennerstrom sort of shrugged her shoulder as explanation of the song’s positive outlook and asked, “what’s ya gonna do?” The crowd knew; enjoy the moment. Delivering rousing tunes with big rhythms and sizzling solos, the Bastards encourage living in the present with double-barreled renditions of “Got to Have Rock and Roll,” “Doesn’t Matter Now,” and, “Revolution,” which reminded everyone, “the revolution is in your mind.”
The band felt right at home despite the fact they hadn’t played Madison since opening up for The Decemberists at the Orpheum Theater in 2009. Accustomed to life on the road as detailed by the slinky mid-show banger, “Went Around the World,” Ohio-bred Texas transplant Wasserstrom recounted spending time in Appleton at a monastery run by some friends while writing songs for the new album. She also professed her love for West Texas desert before launching into the haunted tumbleweed waltz, “The Arrow Killed the Beast.” A restless curious spirit, it made her band’s visit to the Majestic all that more special. A somewhat rare treat to be relished and cherished.
With a set list encompassing their six albums plus, “Letting Go,” from Erika’s 2018 solo, “Sweet Unknown,” the Heartless Bastards set out to please old and new fans alike, even changing their set list to accommodate a request from the crowd for, “Down In The Canyon.” A beefy ninety-minute set packed with seventeen songs, the band kept the pace lively and playful, kidding bassist Jesse Ebaugh when his bass stopped working early into the show. “It’s fun to fuck with your friends,” Wasserstrom chuckled with a sweet mischievous grin that informs her sly songwriting style as well as her public persona.
The enchanting Tela Novella opened the evening with a delightfully demented performance traipsing between country baroque psychosis and whimsical sinister hypnosis.