The Head & The Heart + Matt Holubowski @ Metropolis – 29th November 2016

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As we arrive at Metropolis on a cold Tuesday evening the venue seems unusually calm ahead of tonight’s show by Seattle’s The Head and The Heart, playing as part of their current tour for Signs of Light, which was released in September. Wandering inside it quickly becomes clear that the peacefulness is due to the respectful attention being paid to opening act, local boy Matt Holubowski. The 28-year-old singer-songwriter from Hudson is an impressive multi-instrumentalist who, with the help of a great backing band, plays an ethereal blend of folk which goes far beyond your average singer-songwriter fodder. There are similarities to another Hudson artist, Patrick Watson, but Holubowski manages to create something all his own with enough layers to keep the audience transfixed for the entirety of his set.

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The Head and the Heart’s ascension to the top has been rapid, riding the crest of the indie folk revival alongside the likes of Mumford and Sons and Lumineers. Tonight they’re greeted enthusiastically as the six members take to their positions on stage decorated by an assortment of plants and a single illuminated “Signs Of Light” sign behind them.

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Despite having played a major role in the creative process for the new album, it was announced in March 2016 that frontman Josiah Johnson will not be performing on this tour, as he is “battling addiction and focusing on recovering,” according to a statement on the band’s Facebook page. For now, longtime friend, and husband to the band’s Charity Rose Thielen, Matty Gervais is filling in for Johnson, and the arrangement could possibly become permanent, expanding the lineup to seven when Johnson returns.

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Charity does her best to welcome everyone in her best french, and the audience cheers her efforts. I’m always impressed how many artists attempt to communicate a little in french when playing in Quebec.

Jonathan Russell makes for a great, if somewhat awkward frontman, admitting to the audience that he’d rather be home than back out on tour before quickly assuring us that he’s enjoying tonight’s show nonetheless. In fact, all members of The Head & The Heart seem to be genuinely having fun tonight. There are plenty of smiles and knowing glances between them and the soaring harmonised vocals are delivered with obvious heartfelt passion.

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All We Ever Knew makes for an instantly uplifting opener, while Rhythm & Blues shows the six-piece work together perfectly as the audience nods along in unison. Russell says they were warned the crowd might be a little more subdued than their usual crowds, but as the set progresses and the room warms up, there’s no lack of enthusiasm from the fans or the band. Indeed, Montreal audiences are renowned for being passionate and welcoming to travelling musicians, and tonight is no exception.

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City Of Angels keeps the pace up before Russell is left alone under a solitary spotlight for something far more subdued. One of The Head & The Heart’s strengths is their ability to effortlessly move from pensive quiet moments to soaring singalongs and back again. It makes for a set that never feels dragged out or stagnant and makes the highs more uplifting and the gentler songs all the more affecting.

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An “homage” to Montreal’s own Leonard Cohen, who passed away this month, sung by Gervais and Thielen, is a thoughtful and fitting addition to the set. His music will undoubtedly continue to influence musicians for decades to come.

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During the encore, Russell welcomes singer-songwriter Arum Rae to the stage for a cover of Louis Armstrong’s Wonderful World. She’ll be opening for Joseph Arthur when he plays Petit Campus this Friday.

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The evening ends on the soaring Rivers and Roads, complete with full audience participation. It’s the perfect end to an impressive set. Although they may often tread a little too close to the line of becoming overly earnest, The Head & The Heart tonight leave their Montreal fans more than satisfied as they head back out into the chilly November night.

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Review & photos – Steve Gerrard

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