The Heartless Bastards
Stairs And Elevators
t some point or another someone at this party started talking about the “renaissance of rock and roll” that we are currently experiencing. My first thought was: “Wow, what a great party—a bunch of rock critics.” Shouldn’t we be talking about Debbie Gibson’s naked butt being plastered about the Internet? Let’s keep these discussions puerile and naughty. Renaissance of rock and roll? Please.
Then this guy, who was clearly going out of his way to antagonize me, starts reeling off reasons why loud bluesy guitars, thick chunky riffage and the general worship of the guitar as a phallic extension is currently not only in vogue but saving rock music from itself: “White Stripes Strokes The Black Keys The Hives Von Bondies…”
The worst part was that people were starting to listen to him. They actually were starting to nod their heads and murmur agreement. I did what I had to do to save the party.
“Look, why don’t you take all those bands and just tell them to drop their pants and get a ruler, ok? Just go ahead and have them measure their guitars. Just cut to the chase, ok? They borrow what they can’t create, rehash what has already been done better, cloak their cool as shit snarl in a shroud of everything that’s already been done successfully in the hope that no one will notice. Their whole attitude is just a reworking of the canonical rock and roll attitude that Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, the Stones, Jim Morrison, all perfected to such a pelvis thrusting, faint inducing, weird sex in hotels ‘T’.”
Then I went for my ace in the hole, my trump card to shut up Mr. Rock n’ Roll renaissance and get the party back on track.
“It’s the chicks that make rock music interesting. The Slits, Sleater-Kinney, Joan Jett, The Donnas, L7, shit the fucking Bangles! Rocking out without a cock, that’s attitude. Sticking your nose into the old boys game, that’s attitude. Being loud, good, and butting your head against a bunch of denim jacket wearing stoner boys, that’s your renaissance. Pouring your heart into a song, but still having every guy in the room staring at your tits, that’s attitude. ”
I think the whole party had started staring at me at that point. But really, wasn’t that kind of my plan the whole time? So dude says, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” More often than not this is true, especially after an evening when I’ve spent enough time with the king of beers to be informally welcomed as a member of the royal family, but luck was on my side. I’d been listening to The Heartless Bastards’ Stairs And Elevators obsessively for the last week. The Heartless Bastards are a hard rocking three piece fronted by 27 year old Erika Wennerstrom. Hailing from Dayton, dropping out of high school, moving to Cincinnati, and generally paying her dues the way any self respecting songwriter would, she and her two band mates have created an album with more rocking songs and fat hooks than most bands can dream of. It’s not just that they rock, it’s that you believe what you hear, that they love the sound they make, that Wennerstrom lays her soul bare in her lyrics without sounding like Sarah McLachlan, that the women of rock who labored to make it OK for a girl to dream of playing guitar deserve far better than Avril Lavigne or Kelly Osbourne as their descendants.
Songs like “Gray,” “Runnin,” or “Autonomy” will stand up to any of the music being hailed as a “renaissance of rock.” This is pedal to the metal, bang your head rock, and there’s a woman at the front of this train wreck flailing her vocal cords to tatters with a rough-hewn beauty hard-earned.
Frankly, I don’t know if I convinced anyone of anything at that party. But then again, they hadn’t heard Stairs And Elevators and I had.
Reviewed by: Peter Funk
Reviewed on: 2005-02-15