Review: A majestic second night from The Head and The Heart and Thao - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

All photos by Chris Sikich |

The Head and The Heart brought their own take on the intersection of folk, rock, and Americana to Union Transfer for their second consecutive sold-out show Saturday night. The Seattle-based six-piece led by vocalists and guitarists Josiah Johnson and Jonathan Russell bathed the Philadelphia crowd in a hybrid of music influences including The Beatles, Edward Sharpe, and Peter, Paul, and Mary. Walking onstage with their former tourmates Dr. Dog playing overhead showed the awareness and gratefulness The Head and The Heart had of the Philly love. They dove into a set mixing and matching songs from their debut self-titled work and their recently released Let’s Be Still. Johnson and Russell’s harmonies were expertly complemented by the violin-toting vocals of Charity Rose Thielen, bassist Chris Zasche, pianist Kenny Hensley, and drummer Tyler Williams.

Russell worked the stage the most, wandering with his microphone during quite a few songs, including the blue-lit opening track of Let’s Be Still, “Homecoming Heroes.” The lighting was one of the keys to the show’s success, varying between bright and dark with autumnal oranges and spotlights from the side of the stage thrown in for good measure. And then there was the unusual mirrorball on the floor by Williams, onto which another light reflected during songs including “Coeur D’Alene,” giving extra emphasis to the drummer’s sometimes-raucous beat.

The best was certainly saved for last, as the two-song encore began with Thielen strapping on a harmonica and doing the country-esque “These Days are Numbered” solo acoustic basking in a spotlight. And then they closed with fan favorite “Down in the Valley,” a grand moment of musical joy for all in the crowd.

If there could be a rock counterpoint to the many genres of The Head and The Heart, San Francisco-based opener Thao & The Get Down Stay Down were certainly it. With a punk soul and folk heart, lead singer and guitarist Thao Nguyen went through a blistering set consisting mostly of songs from their 2013 release We the Common. And despite some rare Union Transfer sound issues in her set opener, the title track to her 2009 work Know Better Learn Faster, where her vocals were barely audible, Thao and her supporting crew blasted through an 11-song parade of raucous rock and roll. The highlight was surely “We the Common,” one of 2013’s greatest songs, a blazing work of political and social awareness that is a universal call to the conscience.

Portland, Oregon-based folk and country group Quiet Life opened the night.

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