27 March, 2017

[GIG REVIEW] Car Seat Headrest @ Electric Ballroom, London, Thursday 23rd March 2017

Having self-released 11 albums worth of scrappily recorded fuzzy-slacker-guitar gems through Bandcamp since 2010, the success of Car Seat Headrest, the moniker for Virginia Native Will Toledo, over the last couple of years has been both stratospheric and difficult to fathom; at least on the face of it.

Yet looking around the 1000 capacity Electric Ballroom before he takes to the stage, it's clear his music has made a significant mark on a wide demographic of music fans. And once he's out there strutting his stuff with his band, it all becomes clear. Almost every track is imbued with a delicate, empowered balance of pop-sensibility and personal-relatability. It's this carefully, and almost certainly accidentally crafted niche that singles Toledo out as a hero to a strand of disaffected millennials.

Photo Credit: Nigel Kinnings


Opening tune is the the quasi-epic 'Vincent', a slow-build intro transforming into a 6-minute bass-lead groove, complete with David Byrne-esque vocal delivery, before 'Fill in the Blank' sparks the first mass sing-along of the night. Hearing hundreds of voices yelling 'You have no right to be depressed!' back at the band is strangely cathartic.

The pace is taken down a notch with the softer 'Maude Gone', and then lifted right back up with grungy anthem (as far as CSH does anthems) 'Destroyed by Hippie Powers', which kicks hard, drops down, before getting built up to a visceral climax. At this stage, the excitable crowd are getting into the rowdy swing of things.

The band's rapport with each other and the audience is playful throughout, understated quips from Toledo and drummer Andrew Katz bring a deft intimacy to the night - and they actually convince the crowd to boo them at one point, epitomising the perverse under-dog spirit they embody and inspire.

Around 2/3 of the way through comes the set highlight, perennial indie-press Best Of the Year list botherer 'Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales' is truly shiver inducing, especially, of course, the strained outro refrain - "it doesn't have to be like this!" sparking Mass-Sing-Along-Number-2.

The main set ends, and Will returns on his lonesome to perform a surprise cover of 'Ivy', a standout track from Frank Ocean's insta-classic 'Blonde' album. Toledo's creaking vocals a striking yet effective antithesis to Ocean's smooth delivery.

Then we arrive at the end, via what is essentially the closer to CSH's stunning 'Teens of Denial Album', 'Connect the Dots (The Saga of Frank Sinatra)'. Toledo puts away his guitar, and responsibly stretches before launching into vociferously angular dance-moves to accompany the spiky vocals. He collects his axe for the second half of the 'saga' as the 4 guys on stage tap into their last remaining energy pools to bring the engaging set to a close.

As a relentlessly prolific writer, it's no wonder the set is filled to the brim with gold, and even the omission of breakthrough single 'Something Soon', whilst still missed, isn't anywhere near as fatal to the overall enjoyment as it would be for lesser acts at this same level. This fact in itself is testament to the high-standards by which Car Seat Headrest now applies himself, and connects with a wide-reaching and expanding, devoted fanbase, many of whom have turned out in force tonight.

Car Seat Headrest Played

Vincent
Fill in the Blank
Maude Gone
Destroyed by Hippie Powers
Motorway to Roswell (Pixies Cover)
Sober to Death
Unforgiving Girl (She's Not An)
Stoop Kid
Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales
1937 State Park
Famous Prophets (Mind)

Ivy (Frank Ocean Cover)
Connect the Dots (The Saga of Frank Sinatra)

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