Words and Photos by Ariana Igneri
The Head and the Heart’s concert at Rough Trade in Brooklyn on Thursday night felt more like L.A. pop than Seattle folk rock. On the stage, there was a gold-foil, fringe curtain sparkling in the background. There were lush green palm leaves towering in the corners. There was even a colorful neon sign floating high above the band like a giant halo. In wispy, cursive letters, it read, “Signs of Light,” the title of The Head and the Heart’s new record, which finds the band leaving its stripped down, independent vibe behind in favor of sunny lyrics and polished production.
The show, which was live streamed by Conan O’Brien’s Team Coco, alternated between performances of songs from Signs of Light and the band’s first two albums. Front man Jonathan Russell kicked off the night with three new songs, including “All We Ever Knew,” The Head and the Heart’s latest single, “Rhythm and Blues” and “City of Angels,” a rollicking, ’80s-esque song that was recorded in and inspired by California.
Near the end of the show, Russell sang “Signs of Light,” the new album’s title track, which was written by singer/guitarist Josiah Johnson, who took a hiatus from the band in the spring to focus on recovering from addiction. Johnson’s absence during the concert was felt. It made the divide between the band’s folk sound and its pop sound — between the past and the present — feel more distinct. But, at the same time, it also made the new songs, and their themes of uplifting optimism (“There will always be better days;” “They say that you’re gone / But I know you’re all right”) feel authentic, rooted in something real.
That sense of authenticity has come to define The Head and The Heart. And there were moments during the evening, during performances of both old and new material, where it certainly shone through — like in the warm hum of Charity Rose Thielen’s violin on “All We Ever Knew;” or in Russell’s raspy, deep vocals on the verses of “Down in the Valley;” or even in the slow, earthy guitar on “Rivers and Roads,” which was the closing song of the set and easily the highlight of the whole concert.
“A year from now we’ll all be gone / All our friends will move away / And they’re going to better places / But our friends will be gone away,” Russell sang, deliberately and earnestly, along with the crowd. It felt like an appropriate conclusion. Somber, but confident — like a hopeful farewell.
TheWaster.com | Brooklyn