Wednesday, November 2, 2016

[REVIEW] The Head and the Heart bring 'Signs of Light' to Austin, Texas

Photo by James Minchin


Written by Elisa Regulski

Touring with their new album, Signs of Light, The Head and the Heart finished up a two-night stint at Stubb’s Outdoor Amphitheater in Austin, Texas on Saturday.

The palm trees sparkled under the bright, spinning lights, but it was ultimately the layers of sound that sent listeners into another world. Within minutes of their first song, “All We Ever Knew,” this six-piece band from Seattle managed to turn an intimate acoustic ballad into a wall of electric vibrations that spread throughout the space.

While The Head and the Heart have a litany of memorable songs, it’s really their craftsmanship that makes their sound so delicious. Their songs start quiet, forcing the listener to lean in to their lyrics. Then, without anyone hardly noticing, the volume increases. Soon, Charity Thielen croons harmonies a third above Josiah Jonhnson’s melody. The violin peeks through and, before you know it, the entire crowd is singing along to the bridge.

This pattern continued all night as The Head and the Heart showed off their latest release. They sprinkled in songs from their first two albums throughout the set, which were always met with a hearty cheer and a feel nostalgic “aaaaw”s.

Giggles and smiles flashed through the audience during “Ghosts,” a fan-favorite from their debut album. Smothering Stubb’s in a healthy dose of campiness, The Head and the Heart heralded three colorful ghosts onto the stage. As the people in the costumes awkwardly bumbled around, a bright yellow Pacman arrived to eat them up.

This cheesy interlude was a much-needed break from the rotation of new songs they were pouring out. While Signs of Light honors their tried-and-true songwriting style, hearing the new tracks in a live setting often became tiring. The honest, inspirational tone would be perfect for a quiet listening room, but the integrity often got lost in such a large space. Sounds of menial conversations often competed with their driving, heartfelt performance. Sometimes, no matter how hard you listened, it was difficult to remain focused.

Luckily, this band has enough chart-toppers to reel the crowd back in. During “Lost in My Mind,” everyone’s attention immediately darted back to the stage. The opener, Declan Mckenna, brought his band onto the stage and ignited a revelrous dancing spree. Riding shoulders and shimmying for their lives, the party people turned a song that’s normally introspective and simple into a moment full of wild abandon.

The night continued with predictable arrangements of their best songs. They took little musical risks in their performances of “Down in the Valley” and “Sounds Like Hallelujah.” Songs blended in to the next and created a seemingly steady stream of sound. Restlessness itched through the crowd, but when they closed the set out with “Rivers and Roads,” everyone became still.

Laden with poetry but simple with lyrics, “Rivers and Roads” oozed nostalgia. It’s one of those songs that transcends recordings and takes the listener back to a pristine, untouched moment. The Head and the Heart didn’t need to layer any musical riffs or ornamentations on this one. They let it speak for itself.

Throughout the show, millennials snapped selfies and sent videos to friends. It was often easier to see the stage through someone’s camera than it was through the crowd.

But during the last song, technology was silenced. People cried the words, “My family lives in a different state” in raw, belted bliss. They cheered when Charity Thielen wailed during the bridge, and they held each other until their knuckles ached.

The only phone I saw came out during the final chorus. As the crowd cheered and waved goodbye to the band, the owner discretely slipped his phone back in his pocket. As he hid it from view, I managed to see the screen that read: “Mom: call ended.”

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