sBy Daniel Fryland
Blues rock jams flooded out of the ‘Sco and into Wilder Bowl on Thursday night as the Heartless Bastards followed Tin Armor’s opening set of Columbus-based rock and roll.
Approaching Wilder from the Science Center, I could hear the music and feared that was late. I arrived just in time to realize that what I had heard was only Tin Armor warming up and joined the handful of concert-goers waiting for the doors to open. Among them were a few students and those who obviously did not attend Oberlin and had traveled to the show.
At 10:42 p.m., John Umland of Tin Armor introduced his band, “We’re Tin Armor from Columbus, Ohio.” Matt Umland kicked off the song on his keyboard along with John Umland’s guitar and vocals. Matt Umland alternated between keyboards and guitar throughout the set. Vocals and lead guitar bounced back and forth between John and Matt Umland as well.
The other members of Tin Armor, Matt O’Conke on drums and Matt Golightly on bass, provided the perfect sonic springboard from which John and Matt Umland launched melodic guitar lines with a clean but choppy tone. The guitar and keyboard tones meshed with Golightly’s bouncing bass line and O’Conke’s brilliant drumming, while John and Matt Umland accompanied each other’s vocals with harmonies and riffs. Pop-punk-type builds introduced choruses with introspective lyrics.
“You guys here to see the Heartless Bastards?” asked John Umland between songs, “I hear they’re playing in Oberlin tonight.” Doubtless, much of the audience had come for the headlining band, but the crowd plainly enjoyed Tin Armor. When asked what she thought of the band after their set, Lexie Bean ’13 simply smiled and gave two thumbs up.
Erika Wennerstrom of the Heartless Bastards introduced the first song of her set with a simple greeting, “Hello everybody,” before blasting directly into the music. Erika belted out lyrics in a voice that was reminiscent of Janis Joplin. Dave Colvin’s violent drumming was accentuated by his use of a maraca to beat the floor tom. Mark Nathan blended his guitar into the vocals as Erika’s guitar supplied the chord structure. Jesse Ebaugh grounded the sound in his enthusiastic bass grooves–constantly tapping his feet to the beat and generally getting into the music.
The volume was astonishing. Almost immediately after the set began students left the crowd to get earplugs. At times the sound was painful, especially when the equipment produced a piercing high-pitched feedback, but this was a rock and roll show. Lower volume would not have done the band justice.
For much of the concert, Jesse and Dave were facing each other, locking in with each other’s timing as precisely as possible. The energy of the two was obvious. Dave assaulted his drum set continuously throughout the show, while Jesse managed to somehow involve his entire body in playing bass. Erika shared this energy and used it to fuel her incredible vocal performance.
Mark was more outwardly calm. I could not help but notice that the three Ohio natives in the band (Erika, Jesse and Dave) shared in the energy, while Mark kept a cooler demeanor. Whether or not this was due to cultural differences or just a variation in individual temperament is not for me to say. Mark’s guitar work did was not subject to a similar aloofness, and worked in with the rest of the music seamlessly.
The high point of the set was the performance of the title track off the Heartless Bastards’ new album, The Mountain. Mark took over bass guitar while Jesse moved to the lap slide guitar. Erika’s harsh guitar strumming kicked off the song, bringing along the rest of the band. Jesse played a haunting, ethereal melodic line underlying nearly the whole song. Erika’s smooth vocals built a tension that drew the crowd into the performance. Jesse’s solo on the track was understated, leaving room for a kind of calm melancholy to remain. The song ended with an extended jam, closed off by a drum fill from Dave.
After “The Mountain” ended the crowd started to thin, and the night ended with a sparsely populated ‘Sco to greet the ending of the last final blaring jam from the Heartless Bastards. To close up the evening, Erika addressed the dwindling crowd, “Thanks you so much everybody. Thank you!”