The most delightful concert venues are often the most natural. Denver has Red Rocks, Los Angeles has The Greek Theater, and though many people don’t know it, Providence has Bold Point Park. To put the beauty in perspective, picture a public park tucked away into the corner of East Providence next to a vibrant orange waterfront sunset. There you have the watercolor-esque scene which housed The Head and the Heart and their local friends The Low Anthem and The Ballroom Thieves on June 8th, 2018. These three bands seemed primed for mass appeal, all supposedly pushing an easy to digest alt-folk style that catered towards all age groups, especially in nice weather.
First up was The Ballroom Thieves, an indie-folk trio of Stonehill College graduates hailing from just outside of Boston. Classifying these three as an opening act, though factual, still feels borderline disrespectful. The crowd was noticeably thin given the early start time just after 6pm, but The Ballroom Thieves did not care in the slightest. Throughout their animated performance they danced as if they were they the only ones in the park, striking their respective drum, cello, and guitar with lively smirks that spread quickly throughout the crowd. Their fast folk style was industrious and provocative, while they moved in and out of twangy harmonies and “lead” singers in an impressive all-for-one vocal style. With a scalable sound technician at their back, this band could virtually open for almost anyone operating within a similar genre.
The Low Anthem represented the local Providence talent with over a decade of semi-successful content to their name, yet they still seemed to be virtually unknown to most of the crowd. Their unfamiliarity did not work in their favor, as their deeply experimental alternative style scared the previously conversational crowd into a collective cringe. They brought the day to a screeching halt with purgative instrumental tangents, fostering incredible sums of emotional suffering in what sounded like the soundtrack to a massacre. A fellow concert-goer related the scene to the work of Yoko Ono, saying “it sounds like they’re trying really hard to be profoundly artistic, but I just don’t get it.” Even when they finally slowed down to a calmer acoustic tone, the lead singer Ben Knox Miller sounded distant, as if we were all sitting on a serene Providence beach with good calming music playing too far for us to make out the lyrics. Perhaps the only glaring highlight was when Knox Miller grabbed his bow, took out a literal wood saw, and started skillfully playing the carpenter’s tool like a violin. I never thought I’d saw this, but that man killed it on the saw.
You would have thought that the Head and The Heart were eternal headliners, but they waited a significant amount of time to describe a startling fact about their relationship with their opening act. Violin player and supporting vocalist Charity Rose Thielen sentimentally took an aside and told the crowd that The Head and The Heart actually opened for The Low Anthem in Europe back in 2011, fueling the fire to what would eventually turn into a prosperous long term relationship. Their appreciation for their supporting acts and the cities from which they hailed was not hidden either, as they made sure to accentuate their namesake in saying their head and heart were in every song throughout the performance.
Every mildly recognizable track saw the audience more vocally involved than most concerts would yield, likely due in part to the lyric-less “fa la la” style that The Heart and The Heart often employ. Lead singer Jonathan Russell particularly noticed the unexpected involvement of the audience, as he stopped singing for lengthy scales while listening to the audience belt out his B-sides with confidence. He transitioned out of those moments of appreciation with a beaming smile on his face, often turning to his band members and mouthing the word “wow.” In a peculiar scheduling decision however, the Seattle group played the majority of their recognizable hits (All We Ever Knew, Lost in My Mind, etc.) in the middle of their set, leaving a slim pickings for encore-worthy tracks. This left half their encore with new and uncharacteristically slow ballads, subsequently dulling a crowd down that was ready to leave East Providence jumping for joy. As the encore progressed, they did their best to make up for lost intensity, trading in international energetic hits for dynamic singalongs like “Rivers and Roads” and “Shake.” On top of the songs being genuinely catchy, the crowd seemed to enjoy this set because The Head and The Heart were enjoying the crowd, thus forming a symbiotic relationship of smiles that lasted all night.
Below is a playlist including my favorite song from The Head and the Heart as well as a few teasers from The Ballroom Thieves and The Low Anthem.
Favorite Live Tracks: Lost In My Mind, All We Ever Knew, Sound Like Hallelujah, Rivers and Roads, Down In The Valley