Eddie Barber reviews the pop-folk group The Wandering Hearts at The Lousiana.
Playing to a sold out Louisiana crowd, The Wandering Hearts showcased their piercing four-part harmonies and fastidiously choreographed set on Sunday night - the premier night of their first headline tour as a band. With many in the audience already donning the band’s t-shirt with its faux Western lettering, and a palpable sense of anticipation in the room as they took to the stage at 9 o’clock, one could be forgiven for assuming this to be their third or even fourth appearance in Bristol.
Following on from the wistful and gravelly tunes of William the Conqueror (one man with his guitar) the main event kick started with a four on the floor sing along ‘Fire and Water’, immediately demonstrating their apt showmanship and undeniably flawless vocal arrangement. The next four followed suit, among them their known songs ‘Wish I Could’ and ‘Nobody’s Fool’, with little time to take a breath. Again, four chords, stomping bass drum, big white smiles, showy vocals and a bit of mainstream country snarl to provide some ‘authenticity’. It did not take long for it to click that really, this is pop music with acoustic guitars, tassels and floaty floral dresses. The abrupt endings fit for streamlined radio play and inviting the audience to clap along on a 4/4 beat about sums it up. Rehearsed from their intentionally Americanised clothing down to a cringe worthy swig of a bottle of Jim Beam half way through the set (making sure everyone was aware of it too), The Wandering Hearts really offer nothing more than pitch perfect delivery of the songs you can hear on the record.
Reading before the show that at least a couple of the members began in musical theatre, their stylish execution of their debut album Wild Silence made complete sense. Playing for a mere 50 minutes, a set time understandably curtailed by their lack of material thus far, the one moment which stood out was when they unplugged and stepped forward to sing together accompanied only by one very acoustic guitar. After having feigned some vague message of political solidarity in one song and channelled an apparent ‘folky’ and Celtic feel in another (both felt excruciatingly engineered to add any sense of depth), this brief, intimate performance of ‘Burning Bridges’ felt at least in part organic. There is irrefutable beauty in vocal harmony all but unencumbered by other instruments. The Wandering Hearts seem almost to fair better when they remove their completely unnecessary in-ear monitors and are stripped down to the bare bones like this. The two guitars and mandolin were cancelling each other out anyway by doing the same thing, so nothing lost there. The mandolin also felt more like a prop to again fit their contracted, rustic American look as it offered nothing musically.
After about 11 songs the show was brought to a suitably up beat and dazzling denouement. The sight of the band closing up, with their videographer now on stage with them to capture this ending scene, seemed an appropriate one to epitomise the gig. I tried hard to look for some sign of intricacy, musicianship or depth to the songs throughout the show but that ending especially felt like a live studio performance with us, the willing audience, mesmerised by their emergence to popularity and there only to revel and applaud on cue. It comes down to what you look for in an artist and more importantly in a live show. What they do, they do very well and I have no doubt they will go on to be successful to whatever extent. But it feels as if they are already there somehow. Selling out their first headline show and smugly joking from stage about there being no shirts left on the merch stand – not what you ordinarily hear at a first gig. Bottom line this is not Americana, Country or Folk (labels you see attached to them all over the place). The Wandering Hearts are exceptional performers who deliver pop music through an Americana filter and will play your favourite songs of theirs with energy and fervour – no more, no less.
Featured image: Facebook // The Wandering Hearts
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