>> Stepping out in billowing back pants in front of a sold-out crowd of 1,800 is perhaps the last place you’d expect the Will Toledo of 2011 to be. A stark contrast from recording the original version of Twin Fantasy on a laptop in Virginia, Toledo and his band were in full form at Brooklyn Steel on September 14 and 15, 2018.
On his 2014 release, How To Leave Town, Will Toledo sings, “I co-write my songs with myself / he feels the feelings, I write the words.” Known for his introspective and cathartic lyrics, Toledo’s self-recording and production used to partially take place in the privacy of his car (which became the band’s namesake). Now, however, he has brought Car Seat Headrest to a new level of collaboration on their 2018 Twin Fantasy tour, ready to fully realize these newly reworked songs in a concert setting. Each night, fellow Seattle musicians Naked Giants perform their own material as the opening act, and then the bands combine into Car Seat Headrest for the main set of the evening. The new lineup allows the now 7-piece supergroup to expand their sound with added percussion, keys, cowbell, and lets Will Toledo exchange his guitar duty for some David Byrne-esque dance moves.
First to the stage was Don Babylon, a three-piece from Richmond, Virginia, who warmed the crowd up for the night to come. The center of their set was the emotional “Ow, My Tiny Heart”, a multiple part song that echoed what Car Seat Headrest had in store for their encore. The rest of Don Babylon’s songs were pulled from their upcoming second album, FOUL, giving the audience a sneak preview of their yet-to-be-released record, before singer Aubrey Neeley dedicated their final song to the memory of a friend whose jacket he wore to the show.
Next up was Seattle band Naked Giants - made up of guitarist/vocalist Grant Mullen, bassist/vocalist Gianni Aiello, and drummer Henry LaVallee. The trio performed much of their new album SLUFF with such energy that the crowd was left breathless. Mullen’s hair flew wild as he extended elaborate guitar solos to the point of breaking a string, which he replaced as LaVallee performed an improvised drum solo (with some visibly cracked cymbals) to buy him some time. Meanwhile, Aiello danced around his bass guitar, even playing it backwards over his head as he tumbled across the stage in triangle-patterned blue jeans. These guys pushed their instruments and music to the absolute limit, and the crowd was loving every second. At the end of their exhilarating set, Naked Giants left the stage only to return shortly as a part of Car Seat Headrest.
A backlit stage welcomed Ethan Ives (guitar), Seth Dalby (bass), Andrew Katz (drums), Gianni, Grant, and Henry from Naked Giants, and Will Toledo on vocals as the 7-piece teased the crowd with a few minutes of their fourteen-minute song “The Ending of Dramamine”. Always a fan of paying homage to his musical influences and idols, (“God, give me Frank Ocean’s voice, / and James Brown’s stage presence” he sings in “Cute Thing”) Will Toledo has been opening shows lately with covers of his favorite songs, such as those from The Talking Heads, Death Grips, and DEVO. Tonight’s opener was Lou Reed’s “Waves of Fear”, a song whose lyrics fit in with Car Seat Headrest’s originals surprisingly well. Next, the band flew right into the upbeat “Bodys”, the lead single from Twin Fantasy (2018), where Toledo sings nervously about a desire to dance and be with someone. The crowd exploded, screaming the lyrics and moving together in a group that already felt bound by their love for this band.
The majority of Car Seat Headrest’s set consisted of songs from this new Twin Fantasy release and from their 2016 hit album Teens of Denial. The former is a fully re-recorded and reworked version of an album Will Toledo created by himself in 2011, and released on Bandcamp. The original, a favorite among fans, is a deeply personal story of struggles with romantic intimacy, relationships and the raw feelings that were in the 19 year old’s mind. It’s awkward, low-fi and made by someone relatively inexperienced at making music, but these add to the heartfelt quality of the songs. In contrast, he reworked the new version with the full band members, now backed with the funding and resources of Matador record label. As part of this process, some lyrics were changed and updated to reflect how Toledo now feels as a person with more experience and maturity. Whether this new recording of the classic is an improvement or not is a hot debate among fans; regardless, it is rewarding to see Twin Fantasy receive the attention of a wider audience in any form, and to hear old songs dusted off and revived for this year’s tour. Few can bare their soul in song the way Will Toledo can, and in relatable lyrics like “It’s been a year since we first met / I don’t know if we’re boyfriends yet,” “stop smoking, we love you and we don’t want you to die,” “we were wrecks before we crashed into each other,” “apologies to future me’s and you’s, / but I can’t help feeling like we’re through,” made fans feel like they weren’t alone in their feelings, and that there was hope to get better.
The crowd sang along together to “Drugs With Friends,” and shouting “it doesn’t have to be like this!”, was a cathartic moment for all during “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales,” and a couple who brought cowbells were pulled up onstage to jam with the band for “Destroyed By Hippie Powers.” The band performed Twin Fantasy’s “Sober To Death” mashed up in the center with Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s song “Powderfinger” which saw Ethan Ives on vocals, before the crowd, as one, sang the ending lines over and over: “Don’t worry, you and me won’t be alone no more.”
Ending their set with “Something Soon”, itself a re-recording of an older song that resurfaced on the 2015 album Teens of Style, the band left the stage briefly before returning to perform their 13-minute, three-part epic “Beach Life-In Death” as the encore. The song, one of the emotional pillars of Twin Fantasy, built like an engine revving up to top speed as the audience witnessed a song some of them had waited years to see the band perform again. Exploring themes of depression, opening up to friends, attempt and failure at moving on, “BLID” contains some of the most powerful lyrics Will Toledo has ever written and was a fantastic finale to the night. Waving goodbye to an exhausted crowd, Car Seat Headrest left the stage to continue their tour of the US, before heading to Europe for the rest of 2018. It’s goodbye to these nervous young men until next time. <<
Car Seat Headrest Setlist at Brooklyn Steel, September 14th, 2018:
Waves of Fear (Lou Reed cover) (The Ending Of Dramamine Intro)
Fill In The Blank
(Joe Gets Kicked Out Of School For Using) Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn’t A Problem)
Sober To Death / Powderfinger (Neil Young & Crazy Horse cover)
America (Never Been)
Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales
Destroyed By Hippie Powers
Something Soon / Tell Me When My Light Turns Green (Dexys Midnight Runners cover)
Listen to Car Seat Headrest HERE!
Listen to Don Babylon HERE!
Listen to Naked Giants HERE!