Tag Archives: Austin City Limits Music Festival

Don’t follow your head, follow your heart. Great CD by “The Head and the Heart”

The CD cover for the self titled recording The Head and the Heart

I was going to get back to recording and posting about vinyl but this CD would not leave me alone. It has ingrained itself into my psyche. Quite frankly, it has been a very long time since I’ve heard a CD that I could not quit listening to. I listen to this CD constantly.  I have to share it with cyberspace.  I saw this band at Austin City Limits Music Festival.  They were one of the highlights of the 3 day event. Although The Head and the Heart was formed in Seattle Washington in 2009, most of the members are transplants from California and Virginia. The band has three main singers:  Josiah Johnson, Jonathan Russel, and Charity Rose Thielen.  Jonathan and Josiah play guitar, sing, and play percussion.  Charity sings, plays percussion, and violin.  The other members are Chris Zache (Bass), Kenny Hensley (Piano) and Tyler Williams (Drums and Percussion). As you will hear, the band is piano driven and three part harmony driven.  The blending of Josiah, Jonathan, and Charity is pure magic.  This band is pulling off what other bands all over the country are aspiring to.  That being the marrying of folk, rock, and country into a true Americana sound.  Other bands like Bright Eyes, and Monsters of Folk may be getting more press but no one is accomplishing anything remotely as good as The Head and the Heart. The CD is on Sub Pop Records.  The label made famous for it’s role in creating the “Seattle Grunge Sound”  with bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney.  As great as this CD is, this band is even better in concert.  (See my review of their appearance at Austin City Limits Music Festival 2011.)  ACL has released 3 YouTube videos of their performance at the festival, so I am going to include them in this blog.  I think you will really enjoy getting a flavor for what The Head and the Heart are like in concert.  So “Pump up the volume” and get ready to dance, sing along, and drum on your table your your knees or what ever else you can find to bang on; because this music is irresistible!

1.  Cats and Dogs:  This first song is very short and acts as a prelude to everything you are going to hear.  I love the part where Josiah sings ““Fallin’ from the sky, there are raindrops in my eyes, and my thoughts are digging in the back yard.  My roots have grown but I don’t know where they are…”  All the elements of folk are here.  A simple topic, cats and dogs, a mouse in the house.  As the song nears it’s close it surprisingly and effectively switches from 4/4 time to triple time then ends suddenly.  If you’re not paying attention you will think that the next song is still part of the first song.

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2.  Coeur D’ Alene:  Coeur is the french word for Heart.  This piano driven song has a “Martha my Dear…” feel to it.  It has a Beatle feel to it.  I love the “La da da” chorus.  The luxury of having three singers is exploited very well in this song.  As one singer finishes a line another singer will start a line over the last word of the other singer.  This creates a dramatic effect at the end of the La da da chorus when the vocal “Messes that I haven’t tried to clean up in a while …” overlaps the last …da

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3.  Ghosts:  This is another song about leaving home and blazing your own trail.  “When Mary moved all her shit to Chicago, her Mother made sure she took her Bible.  But you won’t see her face on Sundays…”  Again this song has a very catchy “du,du, du, du, du, du, du…” chorus.  I love the refrain “One day we’ll all be ghosts, tripping around someone else’s house.  Once day  we’ll all be ghosts, ghosts, ghosts…”  Then the du,du, du’s change to “Ba Dap, ba dap, ba, ba, da, da…” This is also kind of Beatle sounding somehow.  There was a time in rock history that they believed if you had a da, da type chorus it was a guaranteed hit.  This song should be all over the radio.  It is infectious and catchy…

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4.  Down in the Valley:  Starting with this song the CD really begins to soar.  This is a great song.  It starts out simply with Josiah singing with just a guitar “I wish I was a slave to an age old trade.  Like ridin’ around on rail cars and workin’ long days.  Lord have mercy on my rough and rowdy ways.”  This song is full of yearning, regret and the desire to start over.  He sings in falsetto and then Charity joins him at the octave.  Their voices blend perfectly.  The song builds and builds until it becomes a tidal wave of emotion.  Then the song ends quietly just as it begun.  But the song is now in your memory bank and is unforgettable.  It will stay with you for a long, long  time.  This is also a staple of their live shows.  Listen to the song and then watch the video from ACL 2011.

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http://youtu.be/xxFui7PBODg

5.  Rivers and Roads:  This is the song that The Head and the Heart always end their live shows with.  Here they are a brand new band and they already have a traditional end er.  It took the Rolling Stones years to get to the point where they had a song that they traditionally ended their shows with! (Jumpin’ Jack Flash)  After you hear this song you will understand why they end their shows with it.  This song underscores the need for more featured vocals from the only woman in the band Charity Thielen.  Listen to what she does in the live performance at ACL.  She sings like a woman possessed.  She is frenetic.  It blew me and the crowd away.  This is a show stopper!

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http://youtu.be/aojUSESZxRo

6.  Honey Come Home:  This song starts out with beautiful 3 part harmony.  A song about a broken home.  A beautiful song with beautiful lyrics.

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7.  Lost in my Mind:  This is their hit.  This song just makes you want to sing along and dance your ass off.  Which is exactly what happens in the video at ACL.  A group of people got on stage and danced with the band during the song.  If you watch carefully in the video you can tell the band is totally surprised but they go right along with it and have a blast with their fans.  After the song was over Charity asked Jonathan: “Who were they? ” Jonathan says: “I have no idea”  Charity asks “Where did they come from” Jonathan says: “I don’t know, but that was a lot of fun!”

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http://youtu.be/i9RrJ9xPvOo

8.  Winter Song:  This is a folk song that any folk singer would have loved to have written.  This song also highlights the point made earlier that the band needs to give Charity more opportunity to feature her unique vocals.

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9.  Sounds Like Hallelujah:  This is a beautiful song that almost becomes a prayer.  From the count off that starts the song to the beautiful finale this song has heart.  I love how the song changes meter in the middle with the “mama don’t put that gun in my hand..”   refrain then it switches to the Hallelujah chorus…

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10.  Heaven Go Easy On Me:  Just when you think that a CD could not possibly have anymore great moments this CD stuns you with an unbelievable final song.  The singer talks about the wind blowing through your window and your front yard and the music gives you that feeling of the breeze blowing through your window.  The leads singers tells the listener “Don’t follow your head, follow your heart…” Then the singers begs “Heaven go easy on me…”  The song would be fairly normal but just as the CD starts with a Prelude (Cats and Dogs) it ends with a truly incredible Coda.  The piano begins a repetitive motif and the guitar begins to strum and the magic happens. “It’s damn good to have met you.  I hope that you’ll stay.  We’re well on our way, we’re well on our way…”  The band takes full advantage of having three great singers as they layer three lines over each other, each singing different lyrics at the same time.  The effect is magic.  “All these things go rushing by…” While another sings “We’re well on our way…” and then the last singer sings “All things must end daring…”  the singers fade away one at a time until all we hear is Charity’s violin and a cello in a beautiful string quartet for the end of time. The CD ends and I just start it over again.

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Bottom line?  Go out and buy this CD now!  The new Seattle sound is Folk Rock.  Check out Fleet Foxes as well.  Don’t miss them when the play David Letterman on October 28th.  You won’t be disappointed.  Personally I love this Americana sounding music and of all the bands that pursue this style of music, The Head and the Heart affect my Head and my Heart!

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Day 3 at ACL – All Good Things Must Come to an End…

The Head and the Heart performing at ACL 2011

Day three started with breakfast at a great local restaurant in east Austin called “Cisco’s”.  While we were having breakfast one of the bands that we saw perform on Friday came in for breakfast too.  The band was called “Wild Beast”.  They were very nice.  We just told them how much we enjoyed there show and then left them alone.  I’m sure they enjoyed their authentic Tex-Mex breakfast as much as we did.

We got to the concert a little earlier than I thought we would and caught about half the set of another English group called Graffiti 6.  We had not planed to see this group but they were very good.  They sounded kind of Jamiroquai like.  The vocals had a soul edged rock sound to them.  They are about to release their first American single.  They played the song and I liked it.  It sounded kind of like The Spencer Davis Group.

Next up was The Head and the Heart.  There was a lot of pre-show buzz about this band.  They had played South by Southwest earlier in the year, but the venue was really small and very few people got to see them.  A large crowd had assembled to see them this time.  I was very excited about hearing them.  The Head and the Heart are a very Americana sounding band from Seattle Washington.  Their self titled debut album was released by Sub Pop Records.  Band has three main singers who traded off taking the lead vocal on various songs.  Their set started slowly and built to a powerful conclusion.  I really enjoyed this band and highly recommend them.  If you’d like to hear what they sound like live and you have iTunes, you can download a live performance from NPR’s “All Songs Considered”.  Some of the highlights were “Rivers and Roads” and “Lost in my Mind”.  This band has great chemistry with the audience.  The only note I wrote about this performance was “WOW!!”

Back at the main stage we saw a band with the very interesting name of Airborne Toxic Event.  They sounded like a cross between The Clash and Bright Eyes.  The lead singer looked like a tatted up hood but when he spoke to the crowd he was a very kind and thoughtful person.   He dedicated a cover of a song by The Magnetic Fields to his recently deceased Grandparents.  He dedicated another song to our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.  He also did a very cool cover of the Bruce Springsteen song “Fire”.  Immediately after I made a comment to my friend that they sounded kind of like The Clash they covered “Rockin’ The Kazbar”.  They closed their show with a rousing version of “I Fought the Law and the Law Won”. This band had played ACL before and a large and enthusiastic crowd tuned up to see them.

During the intermission I went to get some food and beer.  Every day I at these Grilled Steak Kebabs from Tim Love’s Lonesome Dove Cafe.  The food at ACL is very, very good.   Especially Tim Love’s food.  Here’s a picture of his sign above their booth.

The Sign above Tim Love's Lonesome Dove Cafe Booth at ACL

The next band I saw was Broken Social Scene.  This band hails from Canada.  They are great practitioners of Phil Spectors “Wall of Sound”.  There were at least 9 people in the band.  There music soars.  They use a lot of distortion.  They were not afraid to make a lot of noise.  Neil Young would have loved their set.  Late in their set they did a very cool cover of a Modest Mouse song.  I would highly recommend this group.

The sun was beginning to set when Fleet Foxes took the stage.  I have heard of this band for some time and I was very interested in seeing them live.  This set was one of the highlights of the entire 3 day event.  This is a very serious band with highly sophisticated music and harmony. They had as good of harmonies as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young or The Eagles.  They were every bit as good of musicians too.  What an amazing band!  I loved them.

So that brings me to the end of the show.  The last band standing.  Sunday night September 18, 2011 Arcade Fire burned the house down!  They put on a fantastic show.  They light show was blinding at times.  They are also great practitioners of “The Wall of Sound” .  They remind me of Talking Heads at the end of their career when they did Stop Making Sense.  The lead singer sounds and even has some of the mannerisms of David Bryne.  The woman in Arcade fire that plays all of the different instruments and sings lead vocal on certain  songs, kind of stole the show.  She also got to sing lead on the very last song.  The whole crowd dispersed singing her catchy song.

So there you have it.  Three days of fun and music.  What’s the bottom line?  Well, I thought ACL was extremely well run.  I thought the variety and the quality of the music that was presented was fantastic.  They really have this thing down now in their 10th year.  I highly recommend going.  Register on line and get on the email list.  Next years early bird ticket are already on sale.  The line up has not yet been announced but it doesn’t matter.  I can assure you that it will be well worth the $185.00 ticket price.  I have paid more money to see just  one band.  For the same price I got to see 19 bands. I think they are moving the event to October 14-16 2012.  This is great because it will be much cooler weather than it was this year.   It was an experience I will remember for a long, long time.  So, I say buy a ticket and maybe I’ll see you there next year…

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Austin City Limits – Day One

Brandi Carlile

Brandi Carlile at ACL September 16th 2011

Austin City Limits Music Festival is an extremely well run event.  We are a little late getting to the event but that was our own fault.  As we walked in to the front gate “Asleep at the Wheel” was already performing on the AMD stage.  I guess it’s in my Texas blood, but I really love Texas Swing.  This is original Texas music invented in Texas  by the great Bob Wills.  We watched half their set and they were awesome.  We didn’t want to miss another band that overlapped ASW so moved over to the BMI stage to catch ha-Ha Tonka.

It rained on us during the ha-Ha Tonka set.  People were dancing and laughing because they were so glad to see rain in Central Texas!  It has been a long hot summer!

The bands I saw yesterday are as follows:

Asleep at the Wheel, ha-Ha Tonka, Wild Beasts, Brandi Carlile, James Blake, Ray LaMontagne, Cold War Kids, Bright Eyes, and Cold Play.

ha-Ha Tonka was a mandolin driven country rock band.  More rock than country.  They had a great positive vibe to their music.  Wild Beast was Spacey, they had a great lead singer.  Their sound was almost spooky.  It was a layered synthesizer sound. Moody, with falsetto vocals and a hint of The Killers.   They were from England.  Brandi Carlile is from Seattle Washington.  She has an awesome country rock band!  She is a very charismatic performer.  They played an awesome set.  Next was the very strange and weird James Blake.  I don’t know what to say about him. Dubb Step? Sub Dubb?  Rub-a-dub?  Who knows?  total club music.  The sound system was amazing.  You could here the sound spinning around you like a Pink Floyd show.  Ray LaMontagne put on a great show that everyone wanted to be at, but no one wanted to listen to.  Great artist in the wrong venue.  I’d love to see him in a small hall where you could really enjoy the subtle intricacy of his music.  Cold War Kids were the surprise of the day to me.    They totally Rocked!!! They also had a cool funk edge to their sound that really gets under your skin.  They had lots of fans there and they only have two records out.  I predict big things from Cold War Kids.  Bright Eyes seized the stage the moment they came out and just relentlessly burned the house down.  Their set can only be described as searing.  Wow!  What a band!  Last but far from least Cold Play was just awesome!  They just make you feel good.  A huge crowd singing and dancing full of happiness.  The world could use a little more positive vibe today.  Their sound was amazing and the light show was mind boggling.  My piano teacher used to tell me that a sound wave traveled into space forever once you released it into your universe.  In the case of Cold Play, I hope they keep sending those positive vibes out for a long, long time to come…

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