BY THOMAS CONNER Pop Music Critic
in Chicago's Grant Park. (Sitthixay Ditthavong/Invision/AP)
Seattle's the Head & the Heart took to the Sony main stage Friday at Lollapalooza and sang, "Don't follow your head, follow your heart." So despite their name, we know where their allegiance lies -- with the impulsive, romantic and less rational of the two.
An unusual sound for Lollapalooza, even in its rebooted era, the Head & the Heart play music loaded with acoustic guitar, violin, piano and tambourine. Lots of real, resonating wood. Add to that the dual singing tasks of the equally gravel-throated Jonathan Russell and Josiah Johnson, and you have a rootsy pop that's, well -- if you're over 40, call them the Waterdudes, and if you're under 40, they're the Novemberists.
Unfortunately, playing just as the dinner hour approached, the Head & the Heart's set proved to be a leaden lead-in to the Shins. Despite a few aces -- including a new song, "Gone," dappled with lovely harmonies and building to a whomping finish -- the plaintive ballads and folk-rock eventually suffered. Passion Pit began playing in the north, and those spunky yelps, urgent beats and lively melodies wafting over the park suddenly made it sound as if we were in the wrong end.
The Shins kicked off their set on the Red Bull main stage with no fanfare, no introduction, just launching right into "Caring Is Creepy" and several older chestnuts. The old songs --from the era in which Natalie Portman wasn't the only one proclaiming that the band would change your life -- helped establish an identity, provided enough "Oh yeah!" reminders for casual fans trudging through the dust. While the tunes were recognizable, the performances were wonderfully fuller and more dense. It was like hearing a concert recording of the Smiths late in their career, marveling at how lush the sound gets when just a second guitarist is added. In this case, singer-guitarist James Mercer has a completely new lineup around him after ditching the old band as the Shins moved up to a major label for the latest album, "Port of Morrow."
The guitars packed greater punch throughout, plus organ ("Simple Song") and a tourniquet-tight rhythm section ("Bait and Switch") raised brows and kept them high. The set, though, mirrored the band's recording career. It started strong and grew progressively less interesting, until it ended amid some lengthy prog-rock, noodling nonsense.