I’d be lying if I said I was steeped in the matters of The Head & The Heart before attending their show in Charlottesville on Wednesday. I of course knew them by their clout and reputation as indie-folk darlings with deep Richmond ties, and recalled a catchy chorus or two from their first record that I had absorbed secondhand from a friend.
There’s comfort in the beauty and simplicity indie-folk offers, and it’s been interesting watching the artists who found fame in that niche grow in different ways stylistically, as trends in music and popular culture continue to explode and rebuild themselves at a seemingly faster rate every day.
Growing beyond their roots, The Head & The Heart have willfully pushed themselves more toward mainstream rock with their latest release, Signs of Light, and while that move tends to divide critics and genre purists, it certainly helps broaden your appeal, particularly with young people, of which there were many in attendance, eager for the show to start and distract from the dense heat of the day.
The stage at the Sprint Pavilion was decked out with greenery and luminous orbs that gave off the overall feel of a West Coast cabana lounge owned and operated by Stevie Nicks. The crowd was filling in up front as fellow Richmond performer Natalie Prass casually took the stage with her band, which currently includes 3 members of local Richmond heroes Butcher Brown. Her hands relaxed in the pockets of her blazer, she acknowledged the crowd and the heat before diving into new songs from her upcoming sophomore album.
Those familiar with her self-titled debut will know she garnered widespread acclaim for her layered arrangements of horns and strings, paired exquisitely with the sure touch of her confident vocals in a unique and sometimes theatrical way. While her lineup for this show looked straight-forward comparatively, with guitar, keys, bass, and a drum kit, her strengths as a performer shone and her band’s grooves were air-tight.
The new arrangements evoked classic R&B, soul and even a little disco as Prass swaggered and crooned. I’m even more excited for her next release if this performance indicates where she’s headed. A stand-out to look for, “Ship Go Down”, takes aim at today’s current events while retaining her flair for theatricality, translated to a more cathartic bellow than one might expect from her past work’s deft restraint. The crowd loved it and the RVA heros took their leave graciously.
After a short break in which I miraculously decided not to buy food or beer, The Head & The Heart took the stage with gusto to the tune of Elton John’s, “Bennie and the Jets”. They were all dressed to the nines and clearly that was intentional. Singer/guitarist Jonathan Russell was channeling Billy Joel channeling an auto mechanic in his jumper and bandana, drummer Tyler Williams looked to be in all black, singer/violinist Charity Rose Thielen was rocking a Dolly Parton look, bassist Chris Zasche looked like Stevie Ray Vaughan, and the other guys I think looked normal, but who knows, maybe they were channeling members of Foo Fighters or Alex G.
They kicked off their set with the first single from the new album, “All We Ever Knew”, and it became quickly apparent that they are the real deal when it comes to channeling the rock legends of old. The’ve got the looks, the moves and the chops to work a crowd, and damn if they can’t write a catchy hook.
While I’m sure many longtime fans prefer their “earlier stuff,” as longtime fans tend to do, it’s undeniable that these new songs were designed to get people moving and singing along. Their harmonies are tight, the rhythm pumps and the choruses make one feel like they’re seeing an arena-ready band in their prime in a much more intimate space.
As the set wore on, older songs were brought into the mix to the delight of the crowd, who sang, stomped and clapped along. You could see the band feed off of their energy as the momentum snowballed throughout the night. They would motion for clapping, encourage singing and ask the crowd to bring out their phone flashlights for a ballad that ended in a pretty cool disco ball light show onstage.
Their encore consisted of some new material and of course, the song that most people know even if they don’t know they know it, “Rivers and Roads.” I hear that’s pretty much their go-to closer, and why wouldn’t it be?
Overall, the night was defined by the character and swagger of its performers. Natalie Prass showed off her new, groovy R&B sound, and The Head & The Heart showed a whole lot of young folks what it means to be a big, professional rock band in the modern age.
Check out photos by Joey Wharton below:
The Head and The Heart