Sunset and the Head and the Heart are a good match. When the Seattle indie-folk band played the Austin City Limits Music Festival in 2014, their set was slightly earlier in the afternoon, but this time, the sun went down right in the middle of their splendid hourlong set on the American Express Stage.
They were looking right at it as they played, and frontman Jonathan Russell took note. “I know it gets hot here in the daytime,” Russell said, probably thanking his lucky stars that the Head and the Heart is now big enough to play just shy of the headlining slot. “But there are few places that get more beautiful when the sun sets like this.”
Their music fits the occasion. A marriage of memorable melodies, multi-part vocal harmonies and primarily acoustic instrumentation, the Head and the Heart’s sound sometimes seems like it’s refracting the twilight on a night like this.
It’s possible that many of those in the crowd, which appeared to get more packed near the stage as the set went on, were staking out places for headlining band the Killers an hour or so later. But judging from the throngs who sang along on fan favorites such as “Lost in My Mind,” plenty were there specifically to hear Russell and his five bandmates: keyboardist Kenny Hensley, violinist Charity Rose Thielen, bassist Chris Zasche, drummer Tyler Williams and recent addition Matt Gervais on guitar.
There was no Tom Petty cover in this set — kind of a shame, as this is a band whose lineup would lend itself very well to Petty’s more acoustic material — but a midset highlight was their rendition of the Crowded House pop classic “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” which they recently issued as a single. Other standouts included “Let’s Be Still,” the title track of their 2013 album, which started quiet and gradually built up steam; and “Shake,” the standout track on that record.
Several selections came from last year’s “Signs of Light,” after which co-founder Josiah Johnson went on hiatus. The band hopes to bring him back at some point, but in the meantime, Gervais (who’s married to Thielen) has become an integral part of the group, sounding even more vital in his role than he did when the band taped the “Austin City Limits” TV show earlier this year.