Car Seat Headrest announced themselves with something of a flourish last year, surfacing seemingly fully formed with one of the albums of 2016. It turned out that band leader Will Toledo had already released (at the still tender age of 23) a dozen solo albums on Bandcamp before pulling a band together and signing to Matador Records (“Teens of Style”, a collection of songs from those early albums, was released in 2015).
As Toledo mapped out a potential career path (albeit one that sounds like really hard work) for future budding musicians he was honing his songwriting craft, melding forty-odd years of American and British (alt) rock into one cohesive sound. The subsequent album, Teens of Denial, was both sufficiently imaginative and sufficiently noisy in all the right places to be a real step forward.
Any fears that the “debut” album with a band was a fluke were assuaged by new song “War Is Coming (If You Want It)”, released – back on Bandcamp – earlier this month. The song gets an airing tonight, Car Seat Headrest’s biggest London headline show yet – at the meltingly hot Kentish Town Forum or O2 Forum or whatever they call it now (can I still call it the Town and Country club?)
Toledo takes the stage looking like Daniel Radcliffe stepping off the set of a Wes Anderson movie. He has an endearing, rather shy, way about him. We wonder whether for the first couple of tunes if he is playing his guitar or chatting awkwardly to the drummer. Thankfully he faces the crowd soon enough. Oddly, all this makes him a more believable figure, there’s no pretentiousness, no pose. The band rips into “Fill in the Blank”, a laid back “Maud Gone” (from “Monomania”) and a fantastic, raucous “Destroyed by Hippy Powers” which is worth the price of admission (a snip at £15) alone.
The set is alternately frenetic, lackadaisical and disjointed. There’s a James Brown cover “I Don’t Mind”. There’s a crowd singalong for the snappily titled “(Joe Gets Kicked Out of School for Using) Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn’t a Problem)” whilst “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” is a highlight.
Toledo explains he has been on the road for the best part of a year, playing mostly festivals and we are hearing a couple of different festival sets mashed together to form a headline set.
He has been playing these songs live for over a year now and has just over a dozen shows left of the current tour.
“I wanna hear these songs maybe 15 more times and then never again” he half-jokes.
As you would expect, the strongest songs – and the ones that get the biggest reaction from the sell-out Kentish Town crowd – are from Teens of Denial, whilst the less familiar songs are an interesting showcase for those prepared to dig a little deeper. Whilst in some respects this is a band headlining a hour and a half show on the back of a single album, it is to their credit that they manage pretty well. If Toledo and his talented band can rustle up another album of the quality of Teens of Denial, even this Forum show might be their smallest for quite some time.
Car Seat Headrest are playing various venues around the UK over the next week.
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