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.
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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.