The Head and The Heart at Turner Hall
Seattle folk-pop sextet The Head & the Heart won over Milwaukee music fans when they opened for Iron & Wine at the historic Turner Hall Ballroom on June 6. Four short months later, as the lush green foliage turned to auburn, The Head & the Heart came back to not only headline, but sell out the same venue to a sea of fans yearning to hear the band blast through the tracks off of their self-titled debut along with special guests and friends The Devil Whale and Thao with the Get Down Stay Down.
Thao with the Get Down Stay Down were next. Lead by charismatic lead singer Thao Nguyen, the group transcended from punchy pop songs like the hip-swinging “When We Swam” to cuts with surf-rock vibes, ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll nostalgia, southern rock grooves and organ-heavy rapture. Nguyen’s end-of-word emphasis likens comparisons to Regina Spektor but with the electric attitude of Alison Mosshart. During renditions of “Beat (Health, Life and Fire),” you would have thought they were headliners from the crowds’ ardent reaction.
Anticipation mounted as the crowd readied for The Head & the Heart. The band took the stage to uproarious applause and cheers, wasting no time getting into it as they unleashed the piano-and-tambourine-backed “Cats & Dogs.” As vocalists Josiah Johnson, Jonathan Russell and Charity Rose Thielen rang into “Don’t know where they are/I don’t know where they are/My roots have grown/But I don’t know where they are,” an eagerly awaiting crowd was there to sing along.
The crowd participation and interaction continued throughout the evening as The Head & the Heart pumped out harmony-heavy “Ghosts” and the heart-wrenching tenderness of “Honey Come Home.”
Armed with Johnson’s soul, Russell’s wide octave range and Rose Thielen’s sultry delivery, dull moments were non-existent. And as they churned out “Lost In My Mind,” the calvary came out as members from both The Devil Whales and Thao with the Get Down Stay Down stormed the stage with tambourines and rumba shakers in hand to bounce and sing along. This collaboration was the third of the evening, as both prior sets included members of other bands.
The band then took it down a notch and transitioned into the solemn acoustic track “Winter’s Song.” As Rose Thielen began her solo, she was met with wild cheers and applause, and as if she was fueled by the crowd’s energy, she proved the appreciation was rightly deserved.
“Sounds like Hallelujah” came next, followed by the crowd-favorite and previous show’s closer, “Rivers and Roads.” This time, as headliners, the crowed pleaded for an encore, and the band was more than happy to oblige. After revealing their return, they burst into “Virginia,” their second non-album track of the evening (along with “Sally Walks Into a Bar”) and capped off the night with a searing and emotionally charged version of “Down In the Valley.”
Four months ago, The Head & the Heart were on the verge of breaking out. They were a band with something to prove on a national level, and they proved themselves to be serious players. In the following months, The Head & the Heart saw a dramatic rise in popularity and garnered a headlining tour of their own. Despite this sudden acclamation, their drive and passion wasn’t thwarted by repeated praise. Instead, they worked even harder and put on an even better show. This is a band that has an honest sound and genuine love for playing together. This won’t be the last Milwaukee sees of The Head and the Heart, and that’s a very good thing.