The Head and the Heart create an intense positive energy with their building harmonies and uplifting, folk-pop jams. In the short time since they formed they have emerged as one of the of the most sincere and earnest bands on the mainstream indie scene today.
Now at the tail end of this tour, The Head and the Heart have come full circle; after opening for Dr. Dog at the 930 Club last year, they were back Thursday night, selling out the venue as the headliner.
It’s like this band was born adult, never needing to go through any awkward growth periods to create their one perfect album paired with a supremely joyful show. After forming in 2009 in Seattle, they independently released a self-titled debut in 2010. The album was so successful that Sub Pop signed them and re-released the album early last year. Since then they’ve gained a reputation for uplifting, exploding shows that have earned them a large base of devout fans, and propelled them to some kind of indie-folk super-groupdom.
It’s their passionate, billowing harmonies and constant dancing that make every show one big celebration, and this show was no exception. They exploded their well-known songs, like “Coeur D’Alene,” “Ghosts and Down in the Valley,” right into every crevice of the club, and played several new songs as well. But it’s their cohesion as a group and the camaraderie among them that makes this group so special. There are six people on stage, led in voice and guitar by the band’s two founders, California-transplant Josiah Johnson and Virginia-native Jonathan Russell, yet they give the distinct impression that it’s only one, giant soul that’s driving the music.
If there is a more-beloved-than-the-rest on stage, a goddess among the other five men, it’s the humble and uninhibited vocalist and violinist Charity Rose Thielen. She’s the crowd’s darling, and her solos and features were adorned with cheers and screams that far exceeded the reaction to any other element of the show.
She strikes me as the type of person who walks around with the sun shining down on just her even as others beside her are covered by shadows and rain. With flowers holding back her short blond hair and wearing a mens collared shirt hanging low over her torn skirt, she jumped and bounced around the stage, clapping mightily and joining the other musicians in their corners to share the mic or help out with percussion. I would have paid the full admission to this show just to see the 5 minutes when Charity kills it during Rivers and Roads. I hope they double, triple, quadruple her vocal presence on their upcoming album.
As for the rest of the band, it’s all joyful noise and dance too. On stage these six are singing infectious songs about home and loved ones, or being away from home and away from loved ones, or finding home and discovering loved ones along life’s journey. These themes are fundamental to our core and transcend time, space, race, religion, and politics, reminding us that music is a language in and of itself – the language that uniquely brings our souls straight to the surface and people of all kinds together to rejoice in the name of life.
Opener Night Beds offered an equally emotional, yet somewhat down contrast. Remember the Antlers? They’re the better-than-decent band from Brooklyn with a successful album in 2011 whose signature sound is pulsing, loud falsetto cries in the fashion of new-age emo. Hailing from Nashville, TN Night beds has many of the same sounds and captures a lot of that same sentiment.
Their songs vary between the upbeat folk-rock of the Head and the Heart and straight up emo-man. The latter category is where their signature song, Even if We Try, falls. This song stood out for a few reasons, but first only because they asked the audience to please shush before they started it. This, of course, annoyed the crap out of me, and put them solidly in amateur territory in my mind. Really good bands derive a certain action from the audience (whatever it may be) based on the quality of the music. The crowd did not quiet down at first, and conversations could be heard as they began their soft harmonized cries. They got their silence just a few moments later, because the song could, in fact, stand on it’s own as it blossomed into gorgeous harmonies that filled the Club. Lesson learned?
Throughout their nine song set they seemed a bit mystified and maybe nervous, as they revealed a heavy dose of their inexperience, acting especially awkward when addressing the audience. They seemed more in awe of us than we were of them. But that’s because this show was HUGE for them. They’ve never played anything close to the size of the 930 Club. There was an opener before them, and the show was sold out, so everyone got there early to get an el primo spot, which meant they had basically a packed audience. Lead singer Winston Yellin joked at one point that the biggest thing they had played prior to this was a talent show.
I’m happy to report that they met the challenge head-on and held their own. The audience seemed genuinely taken by them, especially as their set wound down to end with Cherry Blossoms and Head for the Hills. They still have a long way to go to refine their sound and their stage show. But to have been asked to open for this show, someone must see plenty of raw talent in them, which by my accounting, is certainly there.
In my opinion, the first opener, Richmond, VA based Goldrush, was the more entertaining opener, and certainly a pleasant surprise of the evening. With roots in the Richmond symphony (though you might not suspect it now), they play a refined mix of classical music, including a stand up bass and violin, and straight up rock ‘n roll. Best bet is to catch them in Richmond if you are passing through.
This show was the second time this tour I’ve seen the Head and the Heart. They played almost exactly the same show, which didn’t bother me one bit. I’d see that exact same show tomorrow if given the chance, though I’m hoping when they pass through again, it will be on the heels of a new album. Expectations are high, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed, but my gut tells me they’ll live up to my hopes, and I’ll have plenty more Head and the Heart shows to look forward to.