Photograph by Kathleen Huff

Heartless Bastards' Erika Wennerstrom delivers powerful vocals to the Cincinnati-based band. The group rocked the Bluebird on Sept. 6.

If Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeah's had grown up and formed a band in the heart of the Midwest instead of New York, one could imagine that the resulting outfit would sound a lot like Cincinnati-based Heartless Bastards, who rocked Bloomington's own Bluebird on Sept. 6.

While the brazenly unapologetic name might make some a little hesitant, one listen to the trio's brand of bluesy, grungy, down-home rock 'n' roll and you can't get them out of your ears.

Kicking off a late show Thursday night, HB drew a decent crowd for still being relatively unknown and were definitely worth the three-hour wait (for this reviewer, at least). Coming off from a recent appearance at this year's Lollapalooza in Chicago and starting a tour of the Midwest, the band has a lot to look forward to, as evidenced by the hard-stomping show.

Lead singer and guitarist Erika Wennerstrom boasted a formidable stage presence, despite her teeny frame and has an aura reminiscent of Jenny Lewis (of Rilo Kiley), with the raspy vocals of some of the best jazz singers. It's hard o believe that such a huge, heartbreakingly powerful sound could come out of such a slight person, but it did, and it was awesome.

Backed by bassist Mike Lamping and drummer Kevin Vaughn, the resulting combination sounds exactly like, if not better than, the recording. The sound was refined but gritty enough to complement the hometown appeal of the Bird, and the Bastards had consistent energy throughout their set.

My personal favorite was the single “All This Time” off the record of the same name. The song was heavy and driven, with rolling drums and an overall pleasant composition. It's just an all-around good time of a song that you can't help but sing along to, and sing along I did.

I would like to have a problem with the Heartless Bastards' set, but I just can't find one. The artists themselves are as approachable as their music. They're totally chill, with no ulterior motives except to rock. But for an up-and-coming pub band, that's plenty to ask for and more.


Opening for the Heartless Bastards were Cincinnati-based Pearlene and Bloomington-based fuzzy rockers The Alarmists [Calm Down].

Pearlene, whose sound complemented that of the Heartless Bastards almost perfectly, was by far the better of the two. With a traditional three-piece lineup, Pearlene chugged through a delightful set of good old-fashioned rock 'n' roll jams, bringing to mind the hard blues-rock groups of the 1970s, specifically Led Zeppelin.

For some songs, there were even some hints of Jimi Hendrix-style vocals, rounding out the heavy, sexy vibe of the performance. Overall, Pearlene boasted a fantastic set, and was a pleasure to hear.

The Alarmists featured two stand-up percussionists, a guitarist and a bassist, who produced a huge sound to say the least. To me, they were a bit on the noisy side, and not the best complement to the blues-rock theme of the evening. I could barely hear the vocalist, not that there were many vocals to be heard anyway, and the entire performance had an industrial quality to it that was a little on the abrasive side.

But on the upside, the musicians were obviously talented in their own rights: the drums took on a tribal quality at times, and the guitar and bass would have fit right in with any hard-rock outfit. However, as a whole, they need some tuning up.

Opening bands aside, the show was a major success, and I highly recommend the Heartless Bastards (or Pearlene) to anyone, either on recording or onstage. For being so “heartless,” this ensemble was anything but cold.

Caitlin Brase can be reached at .