Miles Nielsen and the Rusted Hearts captivated the crowd at the Rose Bowl Tavern in Urbana on March 4, 2023. The band’s sound embodies the blue-collar spirit of Rust Belt towns across the Midwest, especially the lead singer’s Rockford upbringing. Nielsen’s musical storytelling skills were on full display, starting with his tribute to his 92-year-old German grandmother who emigrated to the United States at 16 years old. His song “Cold War” was a nostalgic reflection on her journey to build a new life in America.
The band’s incredible four-part harmonies were on full display during their performance of “Sink or Swim,” a song written after a night of heavy drinking in St. Louis. Keyboardist Adam Plamann played clarinet on “The Story of Tokyo,” which was a song about the city’s heroin problem. The haunting sound of the clarinet added to the intensity of the song.
The banter between the bandmates between songs was lively and entertaining, making the audience feel like they were in on an inside joke. The band used sound samples programmed before the show to inject funny sound bites in between songs, such as David Lee Roth’s isolated vocals from the Van Halen song “Running with the Devil.” Nielsen joked that if he was in the studio during the recording of that song, he wouldn’t have even hit the record button. The band’s ability to play off each other and the crowd was refreshing, as too often, egos can get in the way of the entertainment.
The band’s setlist was diverse, ranging from the upbeat “Dear Kentucky (You’re Killing Me),” about staying up all night writing songs with some smoked “inspiration,” to the mellow and haunting “Shine Your Light,” a song about loss. Nielsen promised it would be the lowest point of the set. The song’s melancholy vibe was accentuated by Plamann’s beautiful alto clarinet playing.
One standout song was “Heavy Metal,” which was anything but heavy metal. It was a light and airy tune, with lyrics that spoke to the band’s musical range. The band’s ability to switch up their sound from song to song showed their versatility and musicianship.
Overall, the band’s performance was captivating, and their Beatlesque Cosmic Americana sound was on full display. Nielsen’s storytelling ability and the band’s impressive harmonies, combined with their entertaining banter, made for a memorable night. The Rose Bowl Tavern crowd was fully engaged throughout the set, proving that Miles Nielsen and the Rusted Hearts deliver immense entertainment value for your concert dollar.