Last Thursday evening, Central Park heard the final songs of this summer from a strong triple bill — each band a headliner in their own right. First, LA-based rockers The Shelters blazed through a high-octane set of muscular songs, including “Rebel Heart.” Their classic influences, channeling The Kinks and Byrds and Beatles, caught the ear of Tom Petty, who invited vocalist-guitarists Chase Simpson and Josh Jove to perform on Hypnotic Eye. Petty also co-produced The Shelters’ self-titled debut album, released last year. The four-piece band — Simpson and Jove, alongside Sebastian Harris (drums), and Jacob Pillot (base), injects the songs with the kind of infectious energy that surely converted many first-time listeners into lifelong fans.
The setting sun painted the field in orange hues as Nashville-by-way-of-Brooklyn The Lone Bellow took the stage, launching into “Deeper in the Water.” The single from their third album, Walk Into a Storm (2017), showcases the folk-pop group’s uncanny knack for writing hooks. The gospel-inspired harmonies are carried along by bright and bittersweet mandolin, calling to mind Poet Laureate Rita Dove’s reflections on the instrument as a sound “cheerful and melancholy at the same time,” owing to “that shadow string, the double strings.” Zachary Williams, who trades off lead vocals with the luminous Kanene Pipkin, along with Brian Elmquist, performs with nonstop kineticism that had photographers colliding in the pit trying to keep up. The all-too-short set closed with “Time’s Always Leaving.” Marc Menchaca made a surprise appearance and danced with total joyous abandon alongside Zach, limbs akimbo, their radiant grins as warm as the summer night. The Lone Bellow’s list of collaborators is daunting — Then Came the Morning (2014) was produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner. And for their latest effort, the band teamed with Dave Cobb (Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton). But the firepower of The Lone Bellow’s live performances shows how even the most pristine studio recordings can’t quite contain their widescreen exuberance.
When the opening bands tore down after their sets, the The Head and the Heart‘s stage setup was revealed like a halcyon oceanside vision. Potted plants dotted the stage and a neon pink flamingo sign was perched on a stack of amps. THATH started their set with “All We Ever Knew” from Signs of Light (2016) — an aptly-named album of songs painted with a more colorful palette than ever, infused with classic rock sounds and giving free rein to the pop inflections that we heard in sophomore album Let’s Be Still (2013). The Seattle-based band continues to evolve from the acoustic, rootsy aesthetic of their self-titled debut from 2011, while hewing to the evocative lyricism and earnest lyrics and harmonies that propelled them from coffeeshops to Red Rocks (and from indie-favorite label Sub Pop to Warner).
Jonathan Russell, Charity Rose Thielen, and newest member Matt Gervais, who joined the band last year while founding member Josiah Johnson focuses on his recovery, trade vocals, with Jon taking the lead on most songs from the latest album. Tyler Williams (possibly the happiest drummer ever) supplies crisp propulsive beats alongside bass player Chris Zasche. Kenny Hensley, who sits at stage right behind the piano, is central to the band’s sonic character, providing bright counterpoints in conversation with Charity’s violin and Jon’s and Matt’s guitar melodies — and notably, in songs like “Ghosts,” creating a dramatic melodic backbone.
THATH’s set included favorites from each of their three albums, including “Another Story,” which was written in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shootings, and “Rivers and Roads.” The latter highlights Charity’s achingly powerful vocals. If you’ve attended a show, you know the part of the song I’m talking about, which always prompts an impassioned reaction from the crowd. And for the first encore, a hush fell over the Central Park field as the stage lights dimmed and Jon sat down at the piano to play a new song which seemed to be in part an homage to their friend and bandmate Josiah. (Jon told the audience that Josiah had just visited him for a week in the former’s Virginia home, that he was doing well, and that he missed us.)
The Head and the Heart write songs about leaving home and charting a return, about friends who part ways, and about realizing, in the end, that we are already home where we feel loved. And the love from the audience was apparent — the three-part harmonies soared, thousands strong, as the audience joined in.
Article: Vivian Wang