Rattling floorboards and seats caused by the stomping of a rowdy crowd is a common occurrence at sporting events. Such a regularity becomes rather out of place at a concert venue however, as was the case for The Head and the Heart’s sold out Boulder show. Hollers and whistles accompanied the vibrations during the set, at its finale, and held out through to the encore. It was one of many stops on the band’s first headlining tour, and while The Head and the Heart wasn’t spot-on, their Boulder Theater audience showed the utmost support and enthusiasm for the Seattle based folk rockers.
Like Crosby Stills and Nash, The Head and the Heart are noted time and again for their resounding vocal harmonies. Part of what makes such harmonization work and makes for the appeal is the rich, clear distinction of the voices folding and melting together. It is this minor yet all important aspect that Sunday night’s performance lacked.
To an untrained ear, it is not clear whether microphone volumes were askew or the band simply was not as on top of the set as they have been during other live shows. Regardless, harmonies were there but with a strong lack of distinction among the voices of Charity Rose Thielen, Josiah Johnson, and Jonathan Russell. Especially missing from the trio was Thielen’s unique yet beautiful and astoundingly powerful voice. It was only during song’s such as “Rivers and Roads,” in which Thielen holds the spotlight for some time, that her vocals were really heard. While the effect wasn’t ultimately damaging to the set, it did make for a disappointing and unfortunate loss of a part of the sound that defines The Head and the Heart.
Of greater or at least more audible consequence was irregular tempo throughout the set. It is important to acknowledge that on stage musicians are free to do as they please, sometimes making for a live sound that differs from that on the printed record. Yet the rubato or push and pull of tempo during some of The Head and the Heart’s songs seemed rather unintentional, creating a sound that made audibly distinct the error in the tempo rather than a pleasant and flowing intention of rubato. Again, to a trained ear this characteristic may have been noted much more often throughout the set. Even still, during two songs the tempo was so radically slowed down that any fan would have noted the difference, regardless of whether they have a musically trained ear. “Lost in my Mind” and “Ghosts” were both performed in similarity to their recorded sounds up until the chorus, wherein Russell especially had to slow down his vocals to such an extent that it looked awkward to watch him sing and made the songs struggle along until they finally pulled out and moved back into the bridge.
It’s not up to one to say how much the audience was dismayed or upset by these flaws, while the insistent stomping and yelling speaks for itself to say that Boulder loves The Head and the Heart regardless. For as responsive as the crowd was with their enthusiasm, the respect they showed for the musicians while on stage was equally impressive. Silence fell over the audience during songs such as “Sounds Like Hallelujah” and “Rivers and Roads,” the crowd exploding in the latter only during Thielen’s thunderous vocal performance, giving the musician so much praise so as to leave her shaking her head and smiling in appreciation. An even greater, longer lasting silence was obtained during the first song of the encore, “Honey Come Home.” As Johnson explained, some songs don’t sound the same as they did when written sitting on the floor in your bedroom. To bring that original sound back to the audience, Johnson performed a beautiful stripped down, acoustic version of the love song.
As Thielen said in true excitement and appreciation of the packed house standing before her, “You’re so quiet when we’re quiet; you’re fucking rowdy when we’re rowdy.” And so did Boulder show support and respect for the band, despite a set that could have been lifted still higher.