Saturday 3 December 2022

Heartless Bastards - Manchester Low Four Studios - 2nd December 2022

Heartless Bastards brought their delayed UK tour in support of their A Beautiful Life album to Manchester's Low Four Studios on Friday night for a sold out show. Overcoming technical issues that threatened to scupper the whole gig they delivered a powerful rocking performance interspersed with more intimate moments to delight the enthusiastic crowd.

One song in to the show, a band version of Letting Go from Erika Wennerstrom's solo album Sweet Unknown, and it's almost all over as the PA packs in and the desk has to be rebooted and rebuilt bit by bit. Unperturbed, and like the true professionals they are, Heartless Bastards improvise. We're treated to two solo Erika tracks that aren't on the setlist. Extraordinary Love is first, a beautiful song about the need to learn to love yourself first and foremost that's one of our favourite songs of the last five years and Sweet Unknown's title track. Everything kicks back in slowly during the latter except the monitors which come back later and the show continues. It'd be easy for the band now to cut short the rest of the show but they give us every song that's written on the setlist which means we get an almost two hour set.

The set takes us on a journey through their back catalogue, stopping off as far back as Swamp Song and Gray from their 2004 debut Stairs And Elevators towards the end of the set and the final song of the night, Sway from 2008's The Mountain, which sees them start to rock out without the benefit of a dark room to do so. Their most successful record to date Arrow, which recently had a tenth anniversary edition released, is also featured heavily with Parted Ways, The Arrow That Killed The Beast and Only For You eliciting mouthed singalongs across the front rows.

As you'd expect A Beautiful Life features heavily in the setlist, the first nine of the eleven songs from the record. Revolution, the penultimate song before the encore, and the album's opening track is a real highlight, another song about loving yourself first, the band's performance breaking down the barrier between any remaining barrier between the musicians and the music lovers. Each of the songs though - Dust, Went Around The World and Photograph in particular - has a freshness, a sense of excitement in the new rather than leaning on the legacy of the older ones, that a band nearly two decades into their existence rarely possess. The whole set never once dips in quality, either in the songs themselves or the way in which the five of them deliver them. Heartless Bastards really should be headlining huge rooms.

The bright lighting allows us to see the intensity in the performance that's often lost in dark rooms and the joy that it brings to them. Erika has a beaming smile across her face for most of the evening, even when the technical problems kick in, whilst Jonas on lead guitar looks like he's living the rock star dream as he lets loose later in the set. When that genuine joy transmits from band to audience and is reflected back and amplified, it's a very special moment and one that happens far too infrequently. It'd be hard to find a less apt name for a band than Heartless Bastards because their music makes them the polar opposite.

Heartless Bastards' website can be found here and they are on Facebook and Twitter.

Their tour continues at Liverpool District (December 3), Leeds Brudenell Social Club (5), London Oslo (6) and Bristol Exchange (7).

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