The Head And The Heart at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, by Carolyn McCoy
The Head And The Heart (photo: Carolyn McCoy)

Words by Carolyn McCoy

One of my main influences in the discovery of new music is my teenage daughter. Thanks to her I have been indoctrinated into the world of current pop music. Her playlists consist of an incredible array of music, from Dolly Parton to Lady Gaga, from Taylor Swift to Johnny Cash, all of whom I greatly love and appreciate thanks to her.

Her love of the Seattle-based indie-rock band The Head and The Heart helped me appreciate their music and made me a fan. Their heartfelt and poetic lyrics often make us cry together, as do their fantastic harmonies that blend so beautifully within the songs. So it was a great joy and privilege that we found ourselves together at San Francisco’s Bill Graham Civic Auditorium for a phenomenal and awe-inspiring concert with The Head and The Heart, both my child and I in giddy anticipation of seeing this band live for the first time. Experiencing music — amazing music — with my child is something I only dreamed of when she was a baby.

The Head & The Heart put on an incredible show — one can tell from the energy they put forth that they truly enjoy performing their music. The richness of their sound, the depth of meaning to their songs and the mesmerizing stage presence is something to behold. Formed in 2009 amid the Seattle open mic scene, the band quickly blasted their way into becoming one of Seattle’s most popular bands, signing to Sub Pop within a year of forming then eventually signing on to Warner Brothers, sending them into the stratosphere of national respect.

The collaborative efforts of the band as a whole are what create the songs. Frontman and multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Russell is a dynamic presence as he struts and dances along with the songs, sharing vocal efforts with violinist Charity Rose Thielen, and the combination of their voices weaving in and out of the songs is truly magical.  Bassist Chris Zasche is a formidable presence, his stance strong and his playing vibrant (plus he plays harmonica, too). Drummer Tyler Williams reminded me of the Muppets character Animal, as the bionic force of his playing shook the drum riser. It was also the first time I have seen a drummer use a maraca and tambourine to bash the shit out of a drum kit. To me, the piano playing of Kenny Hensley helps to create a signature sound for the band, as he adds such buoyancy to the songs with his keys. Newest member Matt Gervais adds his own vibe to the band with vocals, keys, and guitar.

The set was a hodgepodge of songs off the band’s various albums, including the 2019 release Living Mirage, and each moment, each song was a gift to the ears. The band has a habit of building the energy of a song, often leading to a crescendo of sound that can envelop the listener in sonic velvet. Opening their set was the uplifting ”Living Mirage.” “Missed Connection” has a wondrous electro-vibe with a groove to match. “Lost In My Mind” is a lovely acoustic-style song with amazing harmonies. With the gorgeous song “Let’s Be Still,” the crowd was encouraged to use the flashlights of their phones to create “fireflies” within the venue.  With the lights flickering en masse and the audience singing along with the lyrics, “The world’s just spinning a little too fast / If things don’t slow down soon we might not last / So just for the moment, let’s be still,” I had goosebumps and I found myself choked up. The encore started with just Russell, Thielen and Gervais singing “Glory Of Music,” then being joined by the rest of the band with chaotic joy, they ended with “Shake,” and “Rivers And Roads.”

At the end of the night, my teenage sidekick beaming with ecstatic glee, and me simultaneously wanting to cry and laugh at the feelings left inside of me from this truly incredible band, we wandered back into the reality of our lives, the music echoing in our heads and our hearts.