The Head and the Heart perform at The Anthem on Oct. 3, 2019. (Photo by Matt Ruppert)
Forged in the fires of open mics, born in Seattle’s Conor Byrne’s pub, and ultimately shaped by the trials and tribulations of honest friendship, The Head and the Heart have emerged as something new, something somehow different but still fundamentally the same, as seen at The Anthem recently.
A decade since first forming, the band arrived in DC at The Anthem on Oct. 3, long-since having moved on from selling denim-sleeved burned CDs, from the constant wear of self-promotion, from a nascent band of friends still finding itself to a band of friends well-settled into themselves, their identities. Which isn’t to say The Head and the Heart have a settled sound; the opposite is likely truer, with the only constants being a love for harmonies, vocal turns, and memorable melodies. Most recently, on new record Living Mirage, a shimmer and shine twinkles through their folk-pop sound, making it more of a true pop-rock affair, a little slicker, sleeker.
Any fan can recognize similarities to the sonic paths of The Head and the Heart’s contemporaries (e.g., Mumford and Sons, The Avett Brothers, The Lumineers), but theirs is a path spun by their own experiences, their own histories, and their own geography. Seattle — and Washington as a whole — lives in these songs, and so too does the balance of heavy gray skies and the celebration of little joys. Anyone who knows seasonal affective pain can find this especially familiar, that trading of light and dark.
So, too, does the honest pain of addressing old goodbyes and new hellos, of encountering the need for resurrection, for reinvention, for liberation. These themes abound across their records, all in their own ways, but especially so on Living Mirage, with the directness and simplicity of songs like “People Need a Melody,” “Brenda,” and the heart-stopping “Glory of Music.”
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THATH brought their ever-expanding show to DC, ostensibly touring Living Mirage. As such, the record certainly featured, with seven songs in the set. Highlights from the new record included the candy joys of “Missed Connection” early in the set and “See You Through My Eyes” beginning the encore, along with the shout-along catharsis of “I Found Out” and “Up Against the Wall” or the quiet beauty of “Honeybee” and “Brenda.”
And these songs, as already discussed above, continue to prove the band has a way forward, a direction they can and will take. Still, they kept their ear to the past, delivering almost as many songs from their first record, including set closer “Down in the Valley” and encore closer “Rivers and Roads,” a pair of songs that almost define a generation of sound and deserve their places in the American canon.
THATH treated their audience to a pair of additional special moments, bringing out puppies and singing to them onstage (honestly, if the word “squee” has ever been appropriate, it was at that moment), bringing out a sea of friends to sing along (more than once!), or when Jonathan sang “One Big Mystery” and dedicated it to his mother, by himself at the piano.
At their core, THATH are a band that delivers a show with heartfelt, honest, and emotionally affecting music. The expansive stage set — evoking waves and mirages — added to the theater, but so too did Jonathan and Tyler’s antics, running around the stage and climbing the drums. It was an involving experience — the audience did not just come to watch the show and listen to the music. THATH drew in the crowd and invited them to join the band, for just that night, and to sing loudly with them — to feel deeply, to exclaim passion, and to spend at least those few hours looking through the mirage.
Here are some more photos from the show at The Anthem on Oct. 3, 2019. All photos copyright and courtesy of Matt Ruppert.