It’s easy to cast the Head and the Heart among the tide of folk-rock revivalists that has erupted over the past three years, but the Seattle band has distinguished itself from the rest of the pack in subtle ways.
Lots of the new-folk traits are there: gang vocals, extra percussion, rousing choruses, acoustic guitars, a fiddle. But the band’s music bears accents inspired by some titans of classic rock.
Wednesday night, Head and the Heart headlined a show a the Midland theater, and for 90 minutes it showcased that warm, acoustic sound before a crowd of more than 2,000.
Jonathan Russell is the band’s primary vocalist. He arrived on stage in a white brimmed hat, looking a bit like Bob Dylan on the cover of “Desire.” He shared vocal duties with Josiah Johnson and violinist Charity Rose Thielen, both of whom also applied harmonies throughout the night.
The setlist featured several songs off “Let’s Be Still,” the band’s long-awaited sophomore album, released in October 2013, two and a half years after its self-titled debut. On several of its tracks, the band stirred a familiar vibe: the piano-centric “Another Story” sounded like a Crosby Stills and Nash song; “Shake” and “Let’s Be Still” aroused resemblances to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Despite the overall likeness among songs, the band kept the mood energized, even during Russel’s solo-acoustic numbers. The crowd on the packed floor, was engaged and enthused all night, especially when Thielen took the spotlight, vocally or instrumentally. More of her would make a good live show even better.
Highlights: the warm and groovy “Ghosts,” which featured some Elton John-like piano play from Kenny Hensley; “Honey Come Home,” which was buttered with sweet three-part harmonies; the quaint and dainty “Winter Song,” which included Thielen on lead vocals; “Lost in My Mind,” which ignited one of the night’s loudest sing-alongs; and “Rivers and Roads,” the lovely ballad that closed the first set.
They would return for a two-song encore: a solo-acoustic version of “Virginia” by Russell and then a full-band version of “Down in the Valley,” which starts as a quiet ballad but erupts into a foot-stomping, sing-along anthem embroidered with violin filagrees. It, too, felt like music inspired by the timeless sounds of another era.