Popularity arrives sooner than it once did in the music world. It used to take bands three albums and years in holes-in-the-wall and small clubs before they graduated to 2,000-seat theaters and national festivals. These days, if you catch the right wave, you can do it with one album.
“The Head and the Heart” was self-released in 2009; in April 2011 it was re-mastered and re-released by Sub Pop Records. In this age of viral media, word-of-mouth travels so far, fast and wide that a band can generate substantial interest in a town before it plays a show there. Hype about the self-release and the band's show propelled Head and Heart into buzz-band status.
Tuesday’s show was the Head and the Heart’s third in the area since March 2011. In June 2011 it played at the RecordBar, which has a capacity of 200 or so. Three months before that, it played at the similarly sized Jackpot Music Hall in Lawrence. Eighteen months later, it topped a three-band show at the Uptown that drew more than 1,300 people.
The band is a six-piece that plays a mix of melodic pop, Americana, folk and indie-rock that is at times ebullient and jocular, at times wistful and melancholic, at times quiet and introspective. Sometimes it strikes all those moods within one song.
It employs a lot of the tools and traits of bands like the Avett Brothers, whom it strongly resembles: guitars, violin, keyboard, tambourines, shakers and other heavy percussion, especially on the kick drum; three-part vocals and harmonies. There is also much repetition of rhythms, riffs and lyric phrases, all of which accentuate the groove.
The songs are deceptively sophisticated. Some sound as if drawn from a musical or like a Rufus Wainwright composition (think “Poses”). The poppy-er moments at times evoke the traits of the Beatles, Badfinger or the New Pornographers: key changes, shifting time meters and bridges that can sound like a mini-song within a song. They are a lean band, tight and clean and capable of stirring up an instrumental fury, as at the end of “Gone.”
There weren’t many sing-alongs or moments of boisterous participation, but most of the crowd was raptly attentive throughout the set and loud with the gratitude after each song. You could see lots of people mouthing the lyrics all night.
Josiah Johnson and Jonathan Russell are the band’s primary vocalists; violinist Charity Rose Thielen adds harmonies and takes the occasional lead. Several times, especially during a chorus, all three sing in unison, gang-vocal style.
Highlights included the opener, “Cats and Dogs,” one of the better songs on the album. “Josh McBride,” which isn’t on the album, got a loud response; so did “Honey Come Home,” “Sounds Like Hallelujah” and “Rivers and Roads,” which closed the set.
For the encore, Russell took a seat at the keyboard and, solo, played a pretty hymn with a “Let It Be” vibe. They finished with “Down in the Valley,” a lament with a sweet melody and a soft, swaying groove. “We do it over and over and over again,” goes the chorus.
Before the song, Thielen thanked the crowd earnestly and advised everyone that the band would soon go into the studio to record more music. That’s good news. It has no doubt played these songs over and over and over to the point of exhaustion. But the band can hardly complain about how far and high those songs have taken it in such a relatively short period of time.
Setlist: Cats and Dogs; Coeur D’Alene; Ghosts; Honey Come Home; Heaven Go Easy on Me; When I Fall Asleep; Josh McBride; Lost in My Mind; Gone; Winter Song; What’s the Point; Sounds Like Hallelujah; Rivers and Roads. Encore: Untitled (new song); Down in the Valley
Blitzen Trapper: The indie-band from Portland, Ore., delivered a stout 40-minute set filled wiith the sounds of Southern rock, country-rock and some jam rock. The set list drew heavily from "Furr" and 2011's "American Goldwing." It included "Astronaut," "Sleepytime in the Western World," "Might Find It Cheap," "Love the Way You Walk Away," "Furr," "Black River Killer," "Lady on the Water" "Fletcher" and a worthwhile cover of "Hey, Joe."
| Timothy Finn, The Star