Going into The Head and the Heart’s show Friday night felt like I had walked right into a college band party; all the kids playing knew each other and the audience, and the audience knew them, too. Crammed into what would have been the best looking theoretical college apartment around, people stood really close to the stage, chilled out at tables, or on swanky chaise lounges. Everything was lax and loose, and the folks here were gonna have a good time.
The Royale, unassuming from outside with its teal awning, ascends into a marbled lobby, looking like an extension of the Courtyard Mariott across the street. Going through the double doors at the top, I was suddenly transported into the Snakehole Lounge from ‘Parks and Recreation’. Dark, with tremendous floor space, modern tables and posh seating flanked the room. The large semi-circle bar opposite the stage glowed with warm yellow icicle-like lights, and the room smoldered in soft pinks and oranges.
The Devil Whale opened the show, their first ever in Boston. The band, from Salt Lake City, had a cool SoCal alt rock vibe with folk elements. With appealing and brisk tracks, The Devil Whale absolutely killed it for their 30 minutes onstage. Brinton Jones’ vocals wavered over the Pacific-coast-type lilts supplemented by bassist Jake Fish, drummer Cameron Runyan, guitarist Jamie Timm, and keyboardist Wren Kennedy.
The Get Down Stay Down followed, bristling with a boatload of energy and thumping indie-pop. Though playing their own stuff for the most part, the diminutive Thao Ngyuen was met with excited shrieks when she announced they’d play an arrangement of “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me.” Strumming a guitar and singing, Thao and her bandmates spanned ska, rock, and country elements in their set.
The cool air conditioning that had permeated the room before ceased, and the temperature warmed up as more bodies packed the floor. The excitement built as people edged in closer during the set break. Up in the balcony, couches filled, and in the spots without seats, clusters of spectators squished together in an attempt to get a good view.
The room blew up when The Head and the Heart hit the stage. They blasted right into their set, and it was like time had stopped as each song segued into the next. They finished “Honey Come Home” to catch their breath, and Jonathan Russell thanked everyone for coming. This also was The Head and the Heart’s first time in Boston, and they seemed thrilled with the response. I soon became enamored of the band’s beautiful, haunting harmonies. Pitch perfect in every sense, the vocals rolled along with the percussion, violin, guitars, keyboard, and healthy doses of tambourine. After they finished with “Josh McBride,” vocalist/violinist Charity Rose Thielen giggled “This is crazy!”
Russell, Thielen, Josiah Johnson, Chris Zasche, Kenny Hensley, and Tyler Williams proved a coy sextet, knowing exactly when and how to throw the audience into a frenzy. When The Head and the Heart started the billowing “Lost in My Mind,” throngs of people screamed, and got right into singing along.
The group ended their set with “Rivers and Roads,” bounding off the stage with a simple, “Thank you!” But everyone knew they’d be back. The shifts of blue and orange lights went to black, and within moments Russell ran back to the stage, and picked up his guitar for a solo acoustic performance of “Gone.” He had the audience sing along the “Oooh” refrain, and it turned out beautifully; never faltering or awkward. The rest of the band rejoined him for one last song. The woman behind me, Wendy, beamed and said, “It has to be ‘Down in the Valley,’ there’s no way they wouldn’t sing it.”
And so they did. The audience joyfully sang along with the well-known “Down in the Valley,” and then the lot from Seattle waved and headed up the stairs, and off the stage once more. The Head and the Heart, with their sweet folk melodies and hearty instruments, provided a seamless performance from start to finish. They’re a fine model of musical cohesion that never breaks stride, and thrills and pleases their fans without fail.