Monday, February 28th, 2011
Sounds Like Hallelujah
The Head & The Heart at The Horseshoe in Toronto
Frank YangThe technology woes that made the end of last week so unexpectedly… interesting have largely been resolved – hello from my new laptop – but Thursday night was most definitely an evening that I was perfectly fine with not having anything to do with anything electronic. In other words, an ideal time for The Head & The Heart.
The acoustically-inclined Seattle six-piece’s self-titled debut was originally self-released last year but being rootsy, harmonious and from the Pacific northwest it was inevitable that Sub Pop would come a-calling. And so it was that between the digital re-release of the record back in January and its physical re-release on April 16, the band were on a transcontinental tour, both as support for the likes of Dr. Dog and The Walkmen and as headliners, as they were this evening. So even though the full promotional push for the record was probably yet to come, word had clearly already gotten out to some degree and a decently-sized crowd as in place to welcome them to Toronto for the first time.
It’d be easy and not entirely inaccurate to assume from the beards and toques that The Head & The Heart would be easily comparable to their geographic and label brethren in Fleet Foxes or Band Of Horses – certainly they’d be listed as RIYLs – but to my ears the best reference point comes a few thousand miles southeast and a decade in the past – specifically, Pneumonia-era Whiskeytown. Though they build their sound on Kenny Hensley’s piano rather than with guitars, there’s more than a bit of Ryan Adams twang in frontman Joseph Russel’s voice and Charity Rose Thielen’s contributions on vocals and violin are reminiscent of Caitlin Cary and her fiddle. And more than that, their songs share the sort of rich and finely-arranged melodicism that Whiskeytown achieved on their swan song once the punk-rock raggedness was fully contained.
But that’s just a reference point, and doesn’t account for the fact that rather than evoke the sort of weariness that Whiskeytown did – even when smoothed out – The Head & The Heart come from a much more wide-eyed and optimistic place, and the enthusiasm that goes along with that was fully on display in performance. You wouldn’t think that they were dancing in the studio while recording the record but after seeing them play, you can’t imagine that they weren’t – rarely were they stationary while playing, instead stepping and sliding around the stage, moved by the music. With Josiah Johnson and Russel alternating lead vocals – the former’s croon contrasting nicely with the latter’s rasp – or together with Thielen filling out the three-part harmony, often delivered with a gospel-ish fervor. Though the record only clocks in at around 35 minutes, they managed to fill out an impressive and energized hour-long set with a couple new songs and humble, charming and appreciative banter. A superb local debut from an act that we will be hearing much more of in the future.
Stream: Wye Oak / Civilian
Spinner chats with J Mascis, whose new solo record Several Shades Of Why is out on March 15 and who has a couple of performances on tap in Toronto for March 11 – an in-store at Sonic Boom at 5PM and a full and proper show at The Great Hall later that evening.
Drive-By Truckers work the media as Patterson Hood of talks to Jambands, Mike Cooley chats with The Lincoln Journal-Star and Shona Tucker with The Las Vegas Review Journal, all for their latest album Go-Go Boots.
R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills talks to Billboard about why the band won’t be touring behind their new record Collapse Into Now after it’s released on March 8. A stream of the record will be posted at NPR tomorrow at 2PM EST.