Car Seat Headrest


Will Toledo is a contradiction of a frontman. Arriving on stage tonight he is replete in a pair of MC Hammer style harem pants and dances like a cross between a more loose-limbed Ian Curtis and Mark Corrigan at Rainbow Rhythms. (I encourage you to seek out S2E1 of Peep Show for a follow up to this if you haven’t already.) Despite the flamboyant confidence these things seem to suggest, my trusty sidekick for tonight points out that Toledo seems to dance in the direction of various members of the band in time with their instruments rather than toward the audience. It’s a small detail but one that belies a lot about the vibe of Car Seat Headrest as a live act. Their stage show is well crafted and energetic, with some particularly eye-catching lighting choices, but this is tampered with some very melancholic tunes and a creeping shyness coming from the man singing them. Whilst Car Seat Headrest are keen to demonstrate the love they have for playing these songs, with arm and leg flailing a-plenty, the vocals are placed front and centre in the mix, sternly reminding the audience the issues that Will Toledo has had to grapple with (drug abuse, creative impasse, depression etc.) to get to this stage in his career.

I feared the follow up to tonight’s entertainment would be a case of me groping around online for a setlist before listening to the songs I wasn’t familiar with on YouTube whilst trying to cram my recollections into a coherent structure. Whilst this was certainly an option given that I only know about 50% of what is being played, the energy and pacing of the show make the relatively extended hour-and-a-half set pass by without too much thought. Incidentally, having looked at the setlist the day after the show it is interesting to see the band still prioritising material from 2016’s Teens of Denial over their more recent release Twin Fantasy. These records do stand apart clearly from one another with ToD seeming much more introspective and prying than TF and this is borne out in how the songs come across live. The older tracks receive more appreciation from the crowd members joining in with the singing whilst the newer material gets a more rapturous response from the sweaty mass in the mosh pit. At the risk of undercutting my own comparison I have to add that holding up TF as ‘new material’ is slightly disingenuous as it is actually a re-recording of an album Toledo made in 2011.

To make the contrast more solid one might say that as TF showcases the juvenilia of Car Seat Headrest, ToD is the product of a more mature artistic unit further along in the output of their career. Indeed this would seem to be the opinion of much of the Youtube comment sections of their videos with much space dedicated to mentioning Toledo’s growing confidence on stage. He certainly isn’t nervous about dancing despite the minimal crowd interaction between songs and this is in no doubt bolstered by the extended band he has to back him up. The entirety of Naked Giants, tonight’s support, join the core unit on stage alongside one further percussion player who at one point decides lingering in the shadows at the back isn’t for him and jumps down into the pit with his cowbell. That makes a total of 7, all of whom must get credit for the one of the most listenable gigs I’ve seen at the Albert Hall. Often the venue can be guilty of allowing the sound to be washed away into its Gothic ceilings but tonight the audio is much more solid from the opening bars of ‘Cosmic Hero’ right through to the show’s conclusion on what turns out to be a cover of a Dexy’s Midnight Runners song. Given that Toledo no longer appears to be playing guitar live the importance of the band has been marked up a level and they have certainly obliged themselves to the task. Andrew Katz never misses a beat on the sticks, Ethan Ives and Grant Mullen are perfect compliments to each other’s guitar playing and Seth Dalby on bass alongside the percussionists draw the whole sound together.

At the end of ‘Sober To Death’ all the singers in the band engage in an acapella chorus of “don’t worry, you and me won’t be alone no more.” If tonight’s performance is representative of what’s to come, Toledo certainly needn’t worry about solitude when he has such a tight musical unit behind him.

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Matthew Bellingham

As an English Literature student it seemed almost a prerequisite that I should pursue some form of writing, so apologies for any undergraduate pretentiousness that is detected. I try to catch concerts in both my hometown of Manchester and my adopted University hometown of Sheffield. I started regularly attending gigs as recently as 2015, and since then have continued to turn up as frequently as possible. Personal highlights include Horsebeach's debut Manchester show and Eagulls' gig at the Broomhall Centre in Sheffield.