“The Shitty Barn” is a misnomer akin to the suspension of disbelief that sold out Tuesday’s show weeks in advance, before revealing the performers to be Heartless Bastards.
On a July night that verged on an overcast fall evening, the Spring Green venue’s second Mystery Barn Session hosted the Dayton-founded, Austin-based, garage blues quartet that’s no stranger to Madison. Heartless Bastards’ tight, driving anthems, paired with frontwoman Erika Wennerstrom’s delicate bellow, emerged after a softer, strummy start to the first set. A rapt horseshoe of spectators stood behind those seated in lawnchairs, surrounding the band in the DIY space’s softly lit, poster-coated walls.
Barn proprietor Chris Staples called Heartless Bastards a personal reference point, explaining he was introduced to the band by Fat Possum Records tribute to bluesman Junior Kimbrough. (They obligingly and raucously covered “Done Got Old.”) The trustworthy label had curated a music experience, much like The Barn does for supporters. In an increasingly intangible marketplace, Staples encouraged fans to make artifact-ual merch like posters, T-shirts and records a part of their lives and “cultural memories.”
Late in the evening, an antiquated sample of Wennerstrom’s grandmother singing testified to art’s progression through generations. A shaker improvised from a found peppermill at one point joined the crunchy Southern cadence. Older, grittier cuts emerged in the second set and crescendoed into Sabbath-eque psychadelic headbangers propelled by alternately sweet and stinging lead guitar.
Mid show, the unmistakable tangibility of a homespun community music scene made bassist Jesse Ebaugh comment on The Barn’s comfortable, inviting vibe. For the regional music patrons gathered in those wooden walls, the feeling was noticeably mutual.