Car Seat Headrest | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | jeremy-zim.com
Car Seat Headrest continue the conversation by bringing their Noise Machine to Underground Arts
It had only been two days since Car Seat Headrest last played in Philadelphia. Back on Friday, the four piece band fronted by indie-rock wunderkind Will Toledo was introduced by David Dye at NonCOMM (before which Dye said, “I had to play rock-paper-scissors with Bob Boilen to introduce these guys, and I won”). While it was still a great set filled with, as fellow Key writer Joe Bloss put it, “youthful lyrics and mind-numbing guitar shredding,” it was still only four songs, all of which came from the newly released and sarcastically cathartic Teens of Denial (check out K. Ross Hoffman’s great album review for the Key here). The band’s appearance at Underground Arts on Sunday night gave them the chance to expound on their Teens of Denial stuff, while also dive into louder and more fleshed-out versions of Toledo’s early Bandcamp material as well.
It is important to note that, for a young band, it should not be shocking that Toledo and the rest of Car Seat (which I took to abbreviating them as all night) played with a vigorous enthusiasm all night, but they carried that enthusiasm for over an hour and a half. Toledo has so much material – SO much material – that he could have played a Springsteen-length show (three hours or more) but the band has a bright future ahead of themselves to do that, so sticking to about an hour and a half was probably the right decision. Car Seat took the stage around 9:45 after a short if not shaking set by local Philly punks Twin Pines.
Even a last minute temporary line-up change couldn’t stop Twin Pines. Rhythm guitarist Greg Benedict unfortunately could not make the show. so drummer Alex Lindquist took over guitar duties while lead guitarist Justin Nazario’s brother Dan filled in on drums. Even with only “two and a half practices,” the band brought to the stage their fastest and punkiest songs (set closer “Shitkicker” kicked more than shit, it kicked ass) along with two new songs, proving that talent comes from more than just practice: it comes from camaraderie and a willingness to be heard.
While Car Seat Headrest could only somewhat be described as “punk” the same way Twin Pines could only someone be described as “indie rock,” the two bands have more in common than one might think: both loud and ferocious, both filled with ear-worm hooks, both products of the “DIY Bandcamp” era where musicians rely both on themselves and each other in order to survive. Both bands did more than just survive on Sunday night, they thrived on both crowd support and applause for music of honesty and emotion while creating a conversation with the audience through music.
After Twin Pines exited the stage around 9:30, it remained empty for around 15 minutes until a lone Toledo appeared, guitar in hand, to run through the solo “Way Down” to a silent audience. As the song neared its ending, band members slowly flocked on stage in time to jump right into Teens of Denial rocker, “Cosmic Hero” and its refrain of “I won’t go to heaven, you won’t go to heaven, I won’t go to heaven, I won’t see you there.” Toledo and the band may not be going to heaven, but they sure as hell brought us there.
The next run of songs continued with lively Teens of Denial songs, two of which were also played at NonCOMM, album opener “Fill In The Blank” and “1937 State Park.” Toledo mentioned to the crowd that they had played the convention two days prior, to which they responded, “More than four songs!” They answered that with spectacular album single “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales,” which they had held out from playing at NonCOMM. “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” served as the first of three high points of the night, especially when the entire crowd started singing along.
After removing his guitar and raincoat, Toledo lead the band through a beefed-up version of the Teens of Style jam, “Times To Die,” with its start-and-stop harmonies and exclamatory yelps. The one thing that seemed to be missing was a keyboard player, but since this tour has already added a second guitar player, Toledo seems to be taking it one step at a time, and for good measure: In a couple years, he could playing three hour shows with not only a keyboard player, but also a horn section and auxiliary percussionists. Or maybe he’ll strip it back to just drums and guitar. Car Seat Headrest is an act of endless possibilities, and that’s what makes them so exciting.
A sharp performance of “Unforgiving Girl (She’s Not An)” and Twin Fantasy’s “Cute Thing” brought Toledo and crew to their set closer and Teens of Denial epic, “The Ballad of Costa Concordia.” The 11-minute opus, which follows the story of a wrecked cruise liner and its ill-fated captain, was carried through with the band’s wall of sound and Toledo’s artful delivery. “It was an expensive mistake. How was I supposed to know how to use a tube amp?” asked Toledo as tube amps screamed and the drums and bass pounded, lifting the band to even greater heights. The eruption of sound through the second half of the song left Toledo on stage once again as he surprised the crowd with a stripped down cover of Sufjan Steven’s endearingly sad “Impossible Soul.”
After leaving the stage and returning for the encore, the band asked, “How long would you guys have stayed and waited for us to come back on?” As the crowd yelled back varied times from “an hour!” to “10 minutes!” the band laughed before ripping into “Destroyed By Hippie Powers.” Their encore continued with Twin Fantasy deep cut “Sober To Death” that came from an audience request, before the band jumped back with “Vincent,” offering even more from the new album. Six minutes in, when the song breaks down, the band shifted gears and slid in the climactic ending of the Radiohead classic, “Paranoid Android,” before returning to the “Vincent” ending and walking off stage on yet another high point.
When David Dye introduced Car Seat Headrest at NonCOMM, he said that they were “one of the most exciting bands in music right now.” Toledo and company continue to excite by creating the conversation with their audience: a conversation of desperation, a conversation of loneliness, but also a conversation of hope. Hope for music, hope for existence, and as their performance showed on Sunday, hope for the future.
Twin Pines Setlist:
Call It idk
So Long, Brother
New Song #1
Brain, Your Parents Will Kill You Either Way
New Song #2
Car Seat Headrest Setlist:
Fill In The Blank
1937 State Park
Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales
Times To Die
Unforgiving Girl (She’s Not An)
The Ballad of Costa Concordia w/ Impossible Soul (Sujfan Stevens Cover)
Destroyed By Hippie Powers
Sober To Death
Vincent w/ Paranoid Android (Radiohead Cover)