The move from a small label to Warner Bros. for the Signs of Light album should leave no fan surprised that the stage production was as polished as the album’s established indie pop sound. Hanging lights and potted ferns were arranged across the stage, like a dreamy NYLON Mag photo shoot, and the draped reflective curtains in the back and twinkly lights atop the antique piano were impressive alone. An impressive light show weaved through the setlist, neon colors (sometimes a complimentary yellow over violet, but always bright) and floor lights always in motion created a stage your eyes couldn’t ignore. A disco ball was even added during the sixth song, and as Josiah and Jonathan crooned the last line of “Let’s be Still” the lights switched off right as the final chord was strummed, a beautiful quiet moment after long projections of light.
Echoes versus hard light set up the conflicting atmosphere, 30 year old men with their girlfriends holding cheap beer, young college students shivering and unused to the Ithaca winters, sprinkles of couples on date night — every single person was standing up throughout the 2 hour long concert and what a wonderful Saturday night festival feeling that created. Nothing was jarring, only a feeling of togetherness was about.
Almost as important as the main show, Springtime Carnivore (not Springtime Carnival as lead-singer Greta Morgan reiterated several times after seeing it misprinted on the ticket) perfectly framed the before and after situation of The Head and the Heart. The tiny L.A. band were reminiscent of the early years of the Head and the Heart, 70s springtime outfits for the foursome, the familiar wailing and low-range of the famed Seattle alternative rock scene and setlist composed of well-meaning B-sides. It was almost as if the 20-minute introduction, of earthy tones, pure garage band quality production, innocent play with the front row (“I’ll show you a good time later don’t worry!”) from Springtime Carnivore was a look back at the humble beginnings for the Head and the Heart. It told the audience the band understood their past and their present, so complaints they had forgotten their roots were unfounded.
The set switched from bittersweet final dance at a mid-sized town prom to summer festival commercial- all only great as memorable snippets in the background of something better. Not a complete 180 (maybe a 90 degree shift) from their sophomore album, Signs of Light is fully aware it is in fact a pop rock record with an indie folk audience. The album’s setlist blended together at times, as each song followed The Lumineers’ song structure to a T and ignored the magic of Charity Rose’s distinct vocals over a chorus that calls for crowd chants. It’s very clear this is a band on the lineup for Coachella with lines like “Come on darlin’ won’t you let me/ I’ll drive you home” and AABB rhyming (for the crowd).
Original online fans since 2009 and critics since the 2011 Lost in My Mind hype train hold a nearly unanimous disappointment in the latest album, hinting at a total sell-out track listing by the next release. Perhaps an unfair mouthpiece for other indie acts that haven’t made it big, perhaps just part of an established mindset in underdog reverence, this wave of negativity was not present in the Ithaca Commons last night. Two scraggly men behind me bonded over the “anthem-like choruses,” though one admitted to only knowing the lyrics to two songs, while the other owned the band’s complete vinyl set and the group in front held onto each other’s shoulders as they screamed the bridge to “City of Angels.” Josiah’s apologetic “this song sounds like a lullaby honestly” followed by Kenny’s “because it is a fucking lullaby” summarizes this dilemma well. Staying independent versus moving to a corporate creative hold, doing well as an opening act versus filling amphitheaters — what’s wrong with pleasing the crowd?
Allison Arteaga is a member of the Class of 2019 in the College of Art, Architecture and Planning. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org