Halfway through 2005, nothing should set off a music fan's cred alert quicker than a band whose sound falls almost exactly between those of the White Stripes and the Strokes. Cincinnati's Heartless Bastards fit that description -- and yet such simple comparisons come nowhere close to doing justice to the trio's warm, deep and unshakably catchy rock and roll. Fronted by grit-throated singer-guitarist Erika Wennerstrom, the group crosses the Whites' primordial minimalism with the more sophisticated pop croon of Casablancas and crew. But the Bastards' debut full-length, Stairs and Elevators, bristles with rawness and a blue-collar sincerity that spits in the face of fashionista haughtiness and rock-star myth-spinning. The Heartless Bastards have been the handpicked tourmates of luminaries as diverse as the Black Keys, Fiery Furnaces and Drive By Truckers; don't miss this chance to see them forcefully embody, yet somehow totally transcend, the sounds of the time.