The Greenhornes used to do shows to a handful of fans/stragglers in their hometown, then go out of town and play to wall-to-wall people. After record deals and high-profile national attention from the press, that attendance gap has about evened out.
There's something about going to see an "out of town" band that makes people pay a little more attention. If you're at your favorite club and there's a band from Chicago or El Paso (or anywhere else, really), chances are the people in the venue will perk up and listen a little more closely.
Maybe it's the "taken for granted" quotient, where people just think, "Meh, I could see that local band anytime." And maybe there's just something in people that makes them think if a band has traveled any great distance they must be good.
The Heartless Bastards are well beyond having to worry about any of this. With a national record deal and consistent touring (often with big name artists), the group's music and live show is all it takes for people to pay attention.
At Lollapalooza Aug. 5 in Chicago, the Bastards played a great set (marred only by one false start) to a crowd largely unfamiliar with them. I decided to walk around the crowd to check out peoples' reactions. I've seen local bands play out of town before, but the Bastards, as probably Cincinnati's greatest musical export at this moment, are on a different level than most.
The band played at 2:15 p.m. on a pretty warm day and drew a pretty strong crowd at the MySpace-sponsored stage just across from one of the bigger main stages. I spotted a couple of Cincinnatians in the crowd, including at least one former Cincinnatian who has been in Chicago for the past half decade.
As I stood in the photo pit while the band walked out on stage, I heard a woman behind me say "Wow" the second Erika Wennerstrom opened her mouth. I sometimes forget that whole "small stature, huge voice" thing still gets to people. It's kind of cool overhearing it happening live and in progress.
Wennerstrom emits a much more confident stage demeanor now, no doubt the result of constant roadwork. While her voice has always possessed that confidence, she now seems perfectly at home on the stage, moving around a lot more than she used to, and her guitar playing has gotten miles better as well. Bassist Mike Lamping and drummer Kevin Vaughn pretty much just put their head down and work; they've always been one of the best rhythm sections in the city. It was cool to look up at the Jumbotron video on the side of the stage and see the hometown heroes larger than life.
There were a few die-hard fans the Bastards' stage who knew every word and were jamming toward the front of the stage, but all the way back to the soundboard people looked riveted. You had your few hanger-outers, just tossing a Frisbee and wasting time until Pearl Jam played. But for the most part, the Bastards seemed to impress most who watched their show.
When they played the title track from their latest album, All This Time, there was a roar of recognition, leading me to believe that the Bastards get airplay in Chicago.
All of this means on thing is for sure: The band's next Cincinnati show will be packed (again).
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