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“We’re The Head and the Heart and we’re from Seattle, Washington,” said Josiah Johnson to the audience of the Royale Friday night. A simple introduction for a group whose popularity has been rapidly increasing since the release of their sophomore album, Let’s Be Still.
They didn’t need more introduction that that, quickly plunging into the recognizable “Shake,” released as a single in August of this year. The song set the bar high for the evening, but it didn’t seem to faze these Seattleites at all. Immediately after finishing “Shake,” pianist Kenny Hensley plunked out the first few chords of “Homecoming Heroes,” a bittersweet song sure to become the anthem of numerous graduating classes this year, high school and college alike.
Next up was “Couer d’Alene,” a popular hit from their first, eponymous album, staging what would become an even line up consisting of both old and new material. Johnson also took the lead with vocals on this number, after co-founder Jonathan Russell’s prominent role in the first two numbers.
After a few opening songs, the band extended a welcome and a thank you to their supporting band, Thao & the Get Down Stay Down. Thao Nguyen and her band created an incredible energy that stemmed both from the lyrics and each of the four member’s comfortableness on stage. Thao transitioned between instruments often, going between her lap steel guitar and banjo in addition to her normal guitar, sometimes switching in between every song. But this did not phase her: jumping around in a solid red jumper, she was a blast of color and energy, belting out popular numbers like “Holy Roller,” “We the Common,” and “Move.” During the latter, as the song climaxed, she shouted ecstatically, “To be free” over and over again. Instead of ending on the soft, subtle note that the album version does, Thao pranced lightly and unceremoniously off stage and into the dark, as lightly as she had entered; as if she had not just jolted the audience with all of the energy and power she had.
It was obvious why this was Thao’s second time touring with The Head and the Heart: besides being good friends, they presented a challenge for each other – raising the bar for energy, enthusiasm, and variety. They’re a good pair.
After a few brief remarks, The Head and the Heart informally transitioned to their first ballad of the night, “Honey Come Home,” a nice little break from the earlier exuberance. By this point, Johnson had already stripped off his thick sweater in favor of a simple cotton t-shirt underneath. Understandable, considering even during the slow songs, the band didn’t stop moving. At points though, because of this, it seemed like there was a struggle for both intimacy and presentation. It could be argued however that this is mainly the fault of the lighting: the band provided their own, which was dim and gave off a feeling of warmth and closeness, but it often fought with the showy, conspicuous lighting of the venue.
Grounding the band in its roots however was violinist Charity Rose Thielen, the hidden gem of the group. For the first six songs, she did provide excellent backup, but was not given proper time to shine until “Cruel” a number from Let’s Be Still. Thielen finally had the opportunity for a violin solo here, reminding everyone of the band’s Americana and folk influences. During the course of the show she was always met with a positive reaction from the crowd: by the middle of the set the band played “Winter Song” and Thielen got her first vocal solo of the night. As soon as she opened her mouth, the crowd cheered wildly for her. She was met with an equally enthusiatic reaction when she got some more time during “Rivers and Roads,” the last song of the set, before the encore.
Considering how enraptured the audience was with the band the entire night, of course they had to come back for an encore. After all, they hadn’t played “Down in the Valley” yet, their popular hit from 2011. Singer Josiah Johnson reappeared first, by himself except for a bottle of wine. “Could you believe it? I couldn’t find a single cup backstage,” he said before taking a swig.
After a time on stage, the rest of the band joined him to perform “Let’s Be Still” and “Down in the Valley” to close out the performance. It seemed like the audience could not have been more enthusiastic than they were during the whole show – the energy had done nothing but increase since Thao. But increase it did, culminating during the very last note of the very last song, and leaving the Royale ringing as they all disappeared once more.