The Head and the Heart
Aug. 5, Earth House
Seattle-based The Head and The Heart returned to Indianapolis Friday, just two short months after opening for Iron & Wine at the Vogue in early June. The folk-rock band was originally scheduled to open for The Decemberists, but that group’s lead singer cancelled the show to rest his vocal chords.
The contrast between the The Head and The Heart as an opening band and headliner was stark. Back in June, their opening set for Iron & Wine was subdued and subtle, with heavy emphasis on their string and piano work. As the main event the band unleashed an intense, percussion-forward show that had the floorboards shaking inside the packed and sweaty Earth House. For nearly 75 minutes the group bounced and bopped on stage, giving it their all and giving the audience every bit of their $10 worth. They definitely did not play as though the show was a consolation prize to The Decemberists, and they proved why they’ve developed such a loyal fan base.
The set — like a lot of the group’s songs — was varied in pace. At times it was raucous and loud, with the group’s six members dancing and stomping to the beats, swapping instruments and sharing turns in the spotlight. At other times — probably as a way to take breaks from the heat — they slowed it down with solo piano songs by lead singer Josiah Johnson and stripped down acoustic songs like “Oh Virginia,” which put on display this group’s trademark ability to generate sweet, mellow harmonies that blur the lines between folk, country and Americana.
The show began to crescendo with “Winter Song,” on which violinist and only female band member Charity Thielin took the vocal lead to thunderous crowd approval. They followed that up with the obvious crowd favorite “Lost in My Mind,” a fast-strummed tune about introspection and dropping out of reality (“Put your dreams away for now/I won’t see you for some time/I am lost in my mind”). Another highlight of the show was the group’s signature song “Rivers and Roads,” on which Thielin got to light up the stage with her heart-piercingly bittersweet vocals while the group played hard on the beats, jumping and stomping it out much to the approval of the crowd.
Despite this group’s obvious talent and chemistry — both between themselves and their fans — there is a certain run-of-the-mill “I’ve heard this before” kind of quality about them. They sing about pastoral scenes, breakups, and the simple times of childhood with deeply concentrated emotion, but so do a lot of other folk groups, and with a lot richer lyrics. Thielin, for one thing, is vastly under-utililized. For a group that includes five hipster boys with beards, you’d think they’d want to put someone of Thielin’s attention-getting capacity —and talent — at center stage a bit more often than they do.