When any festival or concert series announces its upcoming lineup, the first thing people do is find that one band or show that is an absolute “must-see.” Richmond’s concert series are no exception, so when Venture Richmond announced the line-up for Friday Cheers, you better believe people were letting their opinions be known. This is all a pretty normal occurrence for music fans, but what isn’t typical is when everyone is in agreement.
The Head And The Heart, Black Girls
Friday, May 31 at Friday Cheers
When any festival or concert series announces its upcoming lineup, the first thing people do is find that one band or show that is an absolute “must-see.” Richmond’s concert series are no exception, so when Venture Richmond announced the line-up for Friday Cheers, you better believe people were letting their opinions be known. This is all a pretty normal occurrence for music fans, but what isn’t typical is when everyone is in agreement. After the lineup was announced, the unanimous reaction from the community seemed to be that The Head And The Heart show with Black Girls on May 31st was the highlight of the series, the best news of the announcement, and perhaps the biggest “can’t-miss” show of the year. From a town with pretty divided tastes, this agreement from concertgoers says far more about the show than any press could. Heading into Friday’s show at Brown’s Island, it went without saying that people had high expectations, hoping for an evening they could look back on for years to come. Living up to those expectations is a daunting task, but it’s easy to see why the ante was raised so high for this show.
Let’s start with the music. The Head And The Heart’s fantastic debut album came out in 2010 (and was re-released in 2011 via Sub Pop), yet it still has people’s minds completely absorbed with its tremendously homey melodies backed by some spectacular harmonies. While people are still obsessed over one of the more overlooked albums of the past five years, the promise of new material is equally as responsible for the buzz that surrounded the show. The band’s been touring behind their debut record for an extremely long time, and with blurbs here and there about new songs, any fan has to be anxiously waiting to dine on the musical feast awaiting them. The Head And The Heart also have a great track record thus far, delivering a phenomenal show at The National last year. With a sellout crowd packed to the brim, the audience was hanging on nearly every last note as the band delivered a performance that ensured a strong following in the river city for years to come.
On top of all of this, The Head And The Heart’s Richmond connections further add to the buzz. Guitarist Jonathan Russell and drummer Tyler Williams may spend the majority of their time in Seattle with the rest of the band, but they’re Richmond musicians born and bred, and were members of many local RVA bands long before The Head And The Heart formed. Tyler Williams himself was a member of the critically acclaimed Richmond band Prabir And The Substitutes, which also featured Prabir Mehta, currently of Goldrush, and 3/4 of The Trillions (Charlie Glenn, Chris Smith, and Robbie King). Ultimately, though, I think the single biggest reason for the buzz was the word-of-mouth still surrounding this band three years later. When the band mentioned their Richmond roots to a crowd that had to be approaching a record for Friday Cheers, a shockingly large amount of people had no idea that two members were Virginians. This after multiple articles over the past week stating just that. The word-of-mouth surrounding a band isn’t going to give you all the details of each member’s life story, but when it’s this strong and powerful, it’s going to drive people to your shows who aren’t looking for anything except the wonderful music that they’ve heard so much about. Lucky for the throng of music lovers, the expectations on Friday were met–and vastly surpassed.
As the show started underneath a sweltering sun, local rockers Black Girls opened up the show. This band should not be a mystery for fans of Richmond music or The Head And The Heart. The Seattle sextet has long been extolling the virtues of this Richmond band, which the local community has been pegging as the next break-out thing since their record Hell Dragon came out last year. While the heat was clearly taking its toll on the band, they delivered a perfect set that served as the ultimate sampler of their self-marketed brand of music: “snuff rock.” They performed crowd pleasers like “St. Simons” and the perennial set closer, “Broadway,” as well as a good portion of new material from a forthcoming third record that the band will start recording next month. The new material sounds like a perfect progression for the band; with John Frusciante-like guitar rhythms, a bombastic rhythm section, and singer Drew Gillihan’s trademark falsetto (which sounds like a tighter, more focused Kevin Barnes from Of Montreal), the new material definitely gave the city something to look forward to. In a short amount of time–probably too short for their devout following–Black Girls proved that they deserved every compliment given to them by the community, while also perfectly opening the night for The Head And The Heart.
With the accumulation of a crowd like I have rarely seen at Friday Cheers, it was finally time for The Head And The Heart to deliver on the buzz surrounding the show. Opening in the same vein as their debut record, with “Cats And Dogs,” listeners had no choice but to get lost in the sweet Americana harmonies the band was offering up. They introduced plenty of new songs for the crowd–more than most people (myself included) were expecting. Whereas the debut album was full of youthful energy, the new songs sound like the work of a band that has been all over the country and experienced it all. That’s not to say these songs aren’t as good as their earlier material (exactly the opposite), but they are of a different nature. They’re the soundtrack to your summer afternoons on the porch with a glass of tea, relaxing after a hard day. They’re the road dialogue as you take a trip down 64 West on an extended weekend. The new tunes are a perfect contrast to the songs we’ve come to love, but they put the musical depth we all know & love on display as strongly as the original ones did. My absolute highlight from these songs had to be the quirky 80s-meets-indie tune that Charity Thielen sang lead on early in the show. You might say Thielen is the band’s secret weapon, and based on the display provided by first-LP track “Rivers And Roads,” it’s easy to see why. Seeing her finally own a song from start to finish was fantastic, and this song is now the one I’m most looking forward to when the new album drops. This song and others left the crowd as eager to obsess over their sophomore release as they were for their debut.
While the new material was represented in full force, the band also churned out the songs that made their debut album so memorable. “Lost In My Mind,” “Sounds Like Hallelujah,” “Ghosts,” and more were played as the night went on, each evoking a strong reaction from fans who have probably memorized every last note by now. As the sun set and the lights on the Manchester bridge came on, the band continued to play to a mesmerized crowd that was surely loving every minute of it. With the end of the set drawing near, the crowd was still ready and roaring for anything. As Thielen bolted the signature lyric to “Rivers And Roads,” the Friday Cheers patrons voiced their approval, proving that they probably would have been happy for the band to start their set all over again. By the time the band finally left the stage, it was pretty apparent why word-of-mouth about them is so strong. They’re not going to change your life, and they’re not going to offer you musical innovations years ahead of its time, but they are going to deliver absolutely memorable music with tremendous energy and well-honed ability. While others fall under high expectations, The Head And The Heart have not only succeeded, but clearly flourished, leaving Richmond with yet another show to talk about for years to come.