After spending four years on the road, Seattle-based band The Head and the Heart separated for a well-deserved break. When they reunited in 2016, they wrote their most ambitious album to date.
The Head and the Heart gave an intimate performance Sunday night at the Tabernacle, the same venue that has hosted Adele, Eminem and Prince. Although The Head and the Heart does not hold the same name recognition, the band has perfected its art, seamlessly blending campfire melodies and soulful ballads.
For the better part of the past six months, I have been consumed by the poignant storylines and three-part harmonies of their third full-length album. Signs of Light, released September 2016, garnered criticism for its inflated production aspects, unlike previous albums that showcased the band’s indie-folk voice. Such flaws were hardly noticeable Sunday night, however, as they performed under the star-painted ceiling at the Tabernacle.
Three of the six musicians led the band vocally — Jonathan Russell, Charity Rose Thielen and Matt Gervais — with Russell and Gervais switching off on guitar. Along with Chris Zasche on bass, Kenny Hensley on piano and Tyler Williams on drums, they took to the stage.
The Head and the Heart began their night with the single “All We Ever Knew,” one of their few songs that relies more on instruments than voice. But the crowd really began singing along as the band shifted to older melodies, including fan favorite, “Down in the Valley.” Here, Russell exposed his melancholy side, then stepped away from the microphone as the audience belted, “Lord have mercy on my rough and rowdy ways.”
Thielen was undoubtedly the standout performer. Her cult-like followers know her as the female powerhouse of the group thanks to her surprisingly unhinged vocals. With messy hair and a shy awkwardness, she mastered a memorable vulnerability on stage, dragging notes out until breathless and filling the Tabernacle with her unholy, stripped voice. Armed with a violin and her trademark unorthodox sound, she put the audience in a trance, singing, “I’ll be back again to stay.”
Williams, one of the underappreciated members of the band, brought the stage to life with his enthusiasm. Williams played the drums exuberantly, standing up at some points as he brought his sticks down powerfully. Before leaving the stage, he threw his sticks to the audience, a stereotypical drummer hairdo covering his eyes and a genuine smile stretching across his face.
Despite the quality of the performance, the band has faced some challenges this past year. Original member Josiah Johnson (vocals and guitar) announced in 2016 that he was dealing with a drug addiction and took a hiatus from the tour. Gervais, Thielen’s husband, replaced Johnson and, although the loss made the band’s future uncertain, Gervais’ passionate performance last weekend proved his commitment to those long nights of touring.
To anyone who went to the Tabernacle last weekend, I hope you stayed until the end. The show closed with “Rivers and Roads,” a song with a story to which every college student can relate. With lyrics like “my family lives in a different state” and “I miss your face like hell,” it’s hard to not identify with “Rivers and Roads.” Softly strumming, Russell led off with the first verse. Gervais and Thielen joined in slowly, building their famed three-part harmony. At the chorus, their vocals culminated into a loud cry, singing, “rivers ‘til I reach you,” as Williams carried a steady beat behind them. By the last line, the audience fell silent as the singers crooned their heart-wrenching chorus for the last time that night.
Despite the changes since their founding, The Head and the Heart is in many ways the same band today as they were when they met on Seattle’s open mic circuit, the same band that self-released their first album and the same band that booked renowned music festivals like Lollapalooza and Coachella. But when the live performance is better than the record, you know you have something surreal.