Live at the Capitol Hill Block Party, Day 1: The Head and the Heart

photo by Dave Lichterman

Seattle’s new favorite band The Head and the Heart are riding high after they skyrocketed to fame. The band began by selling their debut album at shows and via local record stores in 2009 (moving an unheard-of 10,000 units in this way), perhaps never imagining it would be re-mastered and re-released on the legendary label Sub Pop. Constant touring has kept the band’s presence prominent through most of 2011, supporting fellow indie folk acts like The Decemberists ¬†and Iron & Wine, and more high profile bands like Death Cab for Cutie and Dave Matthews. Now is the last time to catch them in Seattle before they embark on their very first headlining tour, supported by Thao with the Get Down Stay Down, and it won’t be a show to miss. The band’s foot-stomping folk harmonies packed an early afternoon set at this year’s Sasquatch! festival, so the evening performance on this year’s Block Party Main Stage will certainly be packed. Expect gleeful smiles, arm-in-arm sing-alongs, and a healthy dose of good-natured dancing, as the band rollicks through rustic hits like “Lost in My Mind,” “Sounds like Hallelujah,” and “Down in the Valley.”

First, though, is the band’s intimate acoustic performance from Caffe Vita’s Bean Room, hosted by KEXP. A trimmed lineup of Josiah Johnson, Charity Thielen, and a heavily bearded Jonathan Russell took the stage to a sweltering, over-capacity crowd to rip through three fan favorites and one new track. While the Head and the Heart were missing most of their limbs, the performance never lacked for passion and energy, as the trio harmonized to perfection, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar. The audience persevered despite the heat, swaying and bobbing along as sweat dripped down their backs. A post-show visit from the Sky Marshal drew concerns about capacity, but not in time to belay the set.

Opening with “Josh McBride,” Johnson strummed while Russell and Thielen provided singing support, utilizing the group’s mastery of their vocal harmony. Through the second song, “Winter Song,” the crowd remained largely immobile aside from the occasional screams and shouts of approval, but once the guitar passed to Russell for “Lost in My Mind,” the mass of fans grew exuberant. Johnson, while relegated to backing duties, spurred on a furious bout of handclaps and footstomps as the band’s hit track grew into a thundering crescendo. Adding to the noise was the crowd’s own singalong, the volume of which could’ve caused many to forget that it was only an acoustic set.

The captivating live presence of the folk rockers culminated in the debut of a new song, “Gone,” spearheaded by Russell (and his beard). His gravelly vocals shook and rasped but never faltered as raw, unfiltered emotion exploded from his throat. His face red with passion (or the incredible, stuffy heat of Bean Room, or both), he belted out his lyrics while Thielen and Johnson provided yearning background “oohs” and “aahs.” The crowd seemed starstruck by Russell’s power, a burgeoning frontman with emblazoned stage presence only now seeming to settle in. Their previous tour opening for Death Cab For Cutie no doubt helped in this regard, but KEXP is glad they’re back home for now, as were they: “The one day it’s sunny in Seattle,” Charity said with a smile, “is the day we come back!” Cue roar of approval.

Photos by Brittney Bush Bollay:

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