The Scene: When we pulled up to The Gothic Theatre down on South Broadway, the line for Will Call stretched at least 50 yards down the block. There were well dressed 30 something couples, teenagers who had just been dropped off by Mom or Dad, some early 20’s frat-boys, and a good showing from the local hipster community. In short, it was a melting-pot of Denver’s social subcultures that rarely come together at one event. To be honest, the fact that Sub-Pop’s The Head & The Heart had brought all these folks out and crammed them together in a sold-out theater was a little surprising to me as this folk-rock band just doesn’t have much of an edge.
The Opener: Thao & The Get Down Stay Down. Thao Nguyen and her band The Get Down Stay down came on around 9pm as the theater was slowing reaching it’s capacity and launched into a high-energy folk-rock set that showcased music from the bands six year tenure tenure on the scene. While the music is catchy and very radio friendly, loaded with hooks, clapping, and some ripping guitar parts, I have a hard time getting past the timbre of Nguyen’s voice. On some level it just doesn’t sit well with me.
After getting off to a relatively slow start, the guys from The Head And The Heart made an appearance on percussion about four songs in and seemed to inject some life into the set that later featured “Bag of Hammers” from Thao’s 2008 We Brave Bee Stings and All, and “Cool Yourself” from her most recent record Know Better Learn Faster. While it wasn’t bad, Thao’s set just didn’t really do anything for me, and I recall feeling the same way a few years back when I caught her at Monolith. Oh well.
The Head & The Heart: A few minutes after ten, The Head And The Heart appeared on-stage and were greeted with deafening cheers. The room was packed tight as could be and everyone was focused on the six folks from Seattle who were up on stage. They opened their set with “Cats and Dogs,” “Coeur D’Alene,” and “Ghosts,” the same three songs that open the self-titled debut album that rocketed them into the national spotlight.
The harmonies were tight, the songs were played energetically, and throughout the hour-long set the sold-out crowd got exactly what they were expecting, which in my eyes isn’t necessarily a good thing. I say this because, aside from a few noteworthy tunes, I probably could have stayed at home with the CD and my stereo and gotten just about as much pleasure out of the music.
That said, there were a couple of moments during the show that really made it all worthwhile and most of the songs that stood out to me were the ones that aren’t featured on their album. Midway through the set they introduced us to “Josh McBride,” an incredibly tender ballad that had me hanging on every word and gave me faith that this bands next album could be just as good as their first. As I wrapped my mind around “Josh McBride,” they explained briefly that it was the last night on the tour for the first band on the bill (that we had missed), The Devil Whale, and they invited them, and Thao and her band, out for a rousing version of “Lost In My Mind” that featured nearly 20 people on stage banging on various objects and singing along passionately at the top of their lungs.
Just a few songs later, The Head and the Heart closed their set with another relatively new song, “Rivers And Roads.” The powerful song climaxed with a percussive outro that featured drummer Tyler Williams pounding on his floor tom with all his might. Though just about everyone in the crowd wanted more, it was a great way to end the show. After a few minutes of raucous cheering, Jonathan Russell returned to the stage with Charity and they treated us to a duet of “Chasing A Ghost” that was sublime. Their voices blended effortlessly on top of the strummed acoustic chords and as the songs final notes faded away I was again reminded that this band has some stellar new songs that are just itching to be released.
They wrapped up the show with a pretty standard version of their single “Down In The Valley” that sent us all out into the night knowing we had gotten exactly what we paid for. I’ve heard these guys have had some growing pains during their time on the road together, but that’s normal and they didn’t let it show through here in Denver. They were in good voice, played the songs we wanted to hear (all of them), and even threw a few extras in for good measure. All in all not a bad showing for their first major headlining gig in Denver. They have set the bar pretty high for the next time around, but judging by the new tunes, they should be able to live up to it.
Stage Presence: B+
Set/Light Show: C+