Folk rock heroes The Head and the Heart took a break from a string of Christmas themed shows, held inside large arenas and featuring a lineup of bands, to something more their tempo selling out the intimate Crystal Ballroom on Tuesday in Portland, OR as headliners and gave the thankful crowd a full 18 song set lasting about 90 minutes.
The Seattle-based ensemble continued the popular “December to Remember” concert series held all month at the third-floor venue and sponsored by local radio station 94.7 KNRK. The band drew from their three albums and is currently enjoying heavy radio play for their latest single “All We Ever Do” off Signs Of Light released in September.
The Head and the Heart got right to it opening the evening with their smash hit “All We Ever Knew” followed by “City of Angels” and the catchy “Ghost,” which and big props to the band, definitely sounds ghostly but in a charming sort of way. With two of the band’s more upbeat rocking songs out of the way the remainder of the evening fell into a groove more amenable to The Head and the Heart’s roots.
Much of the setlist tapped their latest and debut albums like the pleasant “Take a Walk” and the crowd simply ate up the great “Lost in My Mind” and “Down in the Valley” both off 2010’s The Head and the Heart. The title track to their second album Let’s Be Still was an emotional punch ending with an equally strong jam and the clever “Cats and Dogs,” saved until the four-song encore, worked really well.
Just after the midway point through the show, singer Jonathan Russell began “Oh My Dear” with the rest of his bandmates off stage but it clumsily came across more like amateur mic night, then a few minutes later the band emerged and sailed the song home. Contrarily, he returned to the stage alone on piano during the encore for “Your Mother’s Eyes” and absolutely killed it.
Overall, The Head and the Heart played tight – a well-done accomplishment considering six musicians, three singers at times producing winsome harmonies, and guitarist Matt Gervais (who married violinist and co-singer Charity Rose Thielen a few years ago) occasionally taking up the keyboards – but not always clean. A bit of dawdling at times and Russell on several occasions spent time tuning his guitar.
The setlist also needs a makeover in the placement of songs. The band ended the concert with “Rivers and Roads” a slow lullaby which would have worked just about anywhere else in the show except the final song. And, why play your most popular song first? It’s quite likely why so many turned out in droves but that favorite track played everyday on the radio was done and gone in the first five minutes of the evening. Delaying the hit single keeps the anticipation flowing of what’s coming next and helps prevent energy drain by songs like “Library Magic” – way too lethargic – and “Winter Song” which needed just a dozen or so listening around a campfire in front of a 1966 VW Vanagon.
The new genre of folk rock, or perhaps more germane Coffee House Rock, might take a bit of patience and perseverance to meld with, especially for those coming from more uptempo rock music…or really anything that feels pedal to the metal when set alongside the likes of The Head and the Heart. It’s mellow and often serene sometimes hearkening back to the 60s while incorporating a bit of bluegrass and a sense of Midwest festivities in the town square.
Still, don’t let the laid back approach to song writing fool you. Yes, it might serve The Head and the Heart well to continue making songs with a bit more dominance like “All We Ever Knew” and “City of Angels” and perhaps that is a direction they’re taking since both highlight their latest album.
Nevertheless, on stage the band certainly plays like they’ve got a pulse. Drummer Tyler Williams wasn’t shy behind the set and appeared ready to break out a blistering fill at any given moment while Gervais, filling in for band co-founder and co-lead singer Josiah Johnson who took a break from touring to address some addiction issues, fingered through some solid solos and a few ripping chords during the most placid of songs.
The Head and the Heart Setlist at Crystal Ballroom