The Head and the Heart: Music Hall of Williamsburg 26 September 2011

Another weekday night in Brooklyn where the bands don’t care that some of us have day jobs and find it difficult to sit through a show that starts at 9:00pm and has two opening acts so that the headliner doesn’t appear until 11:00pm. The saving grace is that this new band only had one album and they don’t have a lot of songs so their set was only an hour long.

rtb and I had difficulty figuring out the name of the opening act. I kept hearing Devil Oil but that didn’t seem right. Even when the second act and the headliner mentioned them I could not understand what they were saying. Devil Whale (from Salt Lake City) might want to consider a new name. The guys were dressed like their audience – I know that this isn’t the type of music that calls for sequins and rhinestones but once in a while I like to see performers dressed like performers. Musically the band fit well on a bill with The Head and the Heart – they’re also a little bouncy although no band could be as bouncy as The Head and the Heart. Drummer Cameron Runyan (on half a kit) was fantastic and a real stand-out. In fact, this was a night when all the drummers shone. Bassist Jake Fish was wearing a Michael Nesmith-type knit cap and lead singer/guitarist Brinton Jones was wearing the regular hipster knit cap. Jamie Timm played lead guitar. Wren Kennedy on keyboards was wearing a t-shirt with Andy Warhol’s cover drawing for The Velvet Underground & Nico. I can’t say I want to run out and buy their album but I am going to keep my eye on them.

Thao with The Get Down Stay Down are from the south and Thao came out with a flimsy dress and cowboy boots – again not looking much different than a lot of the women in the audience. The sites I can find list old members or just a few members so I can’t list everyone – Lisa Schonberg was on drums and Adam Thompson on bass. There was another guy on percussion, one on horns, and one on electric guitar. Thao Nguyen was on acoustic and electric guitar and lead vocals. There was a woman on keyboards and back-up vocals – on one song she layered her backing vocals and it was really beautiful. It was especially beautiful in contrast to Thao’s vocals, which are quirky – girlish but throaty at the same time. Surprisingly, I recognized the song “Bag of Hammers” because it’s on my iPod (I have no idea where I got it). They opened their set with just drums – Schonberg and the percussionist – and then the other members walked in. All the songs were very beat-a-riffic but also very melodic. The cover Thao chose was Smokey’s “You Really Got a Hold on Me,” which didn’t fit her voice or her style of music. It was a brave and unusual choice and I appreciated the effort and the fact that she went outside of the usual indie choices for a cover.

When rtb and I saw The Head and the Heart at their sold-out Mercury Lounge show in May, I wrote that it looked like they were going to be the next big thing. And it has come to pass. This summer they headlined shows and opened for all the biggest indie rock acts and played various festivals. That translated into three sold-out nights in September in NYC for this Seattle folk-pop band. Live “River and Roads” and “Down in the Valley” are still stand-outs (the former was the last song of the set before the encore and the latter was the second and last encore song). “Lost in My Mind” is another stand-out. The audience cheered for violinist/vocalist Charity Rose Thielen when she came out to set-up. Josiah Johnson (vocals, guitar, percussion) and Jonathan Russell (vocals, guitar, percussion) trade off lead vocals except for a few moments when they allow Charity to shine. She also has a quirky voice but she’s better at letting go for the lead and holding back the quirkiness when she’s on backing vocals. Also in the band are Chris Zasche (bass), Kenny Hensley (keyboards), and Tyler Williams (drums). There were more knit caps but at least Charity looked like someone who belonged on a stage and not in the audience.

Everyone bounces. It doesn’t matter if they’re sitting or not. And everyone sings whether there is a mic in front of them or not. Everyone in the band looks like they’re having the time of their life and it’s nice to see them enjoying their time.

Here is “Rivers and Roads” from this year’s ACL:

By Carene Lydia Lopez