In the short time since the release of their self-titled debut, The Head and The Heart have crisscrossed the country, opening for a staggering number of high profile acts. On Friday, March 9th, they brought a hard-earned headlining tour to an appropriate venue for a band with such a folksy, neo-old-timey sound: The Vogue in Indianapolis, a pre-WWII heartland movie theater turned nightclub that can resemble an opera house or a county fair barn, depending on where you are standing.
Opener Drew Grow & The Pastors Wives gave a gripping performance that would have threatened to upstage anyone that they were opening for. On record, they could be considered a more eclectic kin of The Head and The Heart, but their live sound was heavier and sometimes downright menacing to those that just came for some strummed guitars and harmonies from the headliner. Drew Grow delivered disarmingly soulful vocals that worked surprisingly well with the raw but focused accompaniment. They ended on a softer note that made for a smooth transition to THATH’s set.
Despite ample balcony seating, those in the audience released from their chairs in favor of packing into the crowd downstairs once My Morning Jacket’s “Wordless Chorus” announced the imminent arrival of the band. The fervor of those that managed to get tickets to this sold-out-for-months show was a good sign. Given the gentle nature of their music, they did well to keep up this energy by starting off their set with the relatively energetic album-opener “Cats and Dogs”, then transitioned to the shuffling “Ghosts”, before settling down with “Honey Come Home” and album-closer “Heaven Go Easy On Me”. Their breakthrough song and crowd favorite, “Lost in My Mind”, showed up in the middle of their set, during which members of the opening acts joined them on stage for percussion and to help rouse the crowd for a sing-a-long. Early on you could feel a little tentativeness from THATH, maybe a sign that they weren’t yet used to performing as the main attraction in front of crowds of this size. However, it was clear from this point on that they knew they owned the house. A genuine connection between the bands could be seen and singer/guitarist Jonathan Russell wore a Drew Grow shirt throughout.
During the course of the set, vocal duties were passed back and forth between Russell and singer/guitarist Josiah Johnson, with frequent harmonies that often included fiddler Charity Rose Thielen. After finding a way to spice up the obligatory hit with a little help from their friends, they maintained their peak by playing “Winter Song”, which featured a couple of lines of solo vocals by Thielen, causing the crowd to erupt with applause. This and another brief solo moment made it clear that she is quite talented and the most unique singer in the band. The crowd’s reaction to her highlighted how criminally underused her voice is. Kenny Hensley provided much of the melody on keys while the rhythm section of bassist Chris Zasche and drummer Tyler Williams provided much of the energy, with Zasche loping around the stage and Williams hammering away as if no one told him he’s in a “folk” band.
The set closed on two more high notes with the crowd favorites “Sounds like Hallelujah” and “Rivers and Roads”, which erupted into crowd sing-a-longs for nearly their entire length. After a brief break, they were urged back out and played two new songs, then finished their encore with “Down in the Valley”, leading the crowd in their final turn as choir.
Those that doubt The Head and The Heart have sometimes questioned if they are the genuine article. Some have said that they are kids too young to have roots playing with roots music, evoking a time that existed before their parents and perhaps their grandparents were even born. Even if some may question how genuine their music is on record, the earnestness of their live show puts to rest any doubts about how genuine their intentions are as artists and performers. After all, how many roots musicians during the modern era have really been coal miners anyway? The test for any musical artist is to get their audience to relate to something, whether or not they have experienced it for themselves. The proof that The Head and the Heart have passed this test could be seen in the nature of their audience, teenagers and those old enough to be their grandparents equally engrossed in the performance.