Car Seat Headrest at the O2 Forum Kentish Town

 Car Seat Headrest’s Will Toledo. Source: Pitchfork


Part 1. Setting the Scene: Critics of denial

On Thursday, 8thNovember 2000 indie-heads crawled out of the London woodwork, eager to see the arrival of Car Seat Headrest at the Kentish Town Forum.

But let’s take a step back for now.  For the purposes of argument, there are two Car Seat Headrests. Consider Car Seat Headrest: The Studio Band, and Car Seat Headrest: The Onstage Phenomenon. Now, there are perhaps two complaints that any reviewer could level at Car Seat Headrest: The Studio Band (henceforth, CSH). These are:

  • “Gosh, Henry. I wish I could get into this CSH album. But their sound is too tinny. It sounds like the microphone was hidden inside a can of Strongbow Dark Fruits”
  • “CSH is Will Toledo. Will Toledo is CSH. I fail to separate the individual from the band, and hence my opinion of CSH is actually my opinion of Will Toledo.”

Critics will endlessly fire off these two statements from the akimbo Smokin’ Barrel of Personal Opinion and Abstract Philosophy.

Well howdey, there’s a new cowboy in town. Meet, Car Seat Headrest: The Onstage Phenomenom. He’s clean shaven. He rides into London town on a Boeing 747 trans-Atlantic. He means business. And what’s that, he’s bought his friends, Naked Giants.

A bit of context: Car Seat Headrest WAS the brainchild of Toledo. In his formative years, Toledo released 12 albums on Bandcamp through the guise of CSH (named as the recordings were literally done in the car), before ultimately signing for Matador (this could fit into the cowboy metaphor above, I shall leave this as an exercise to the reader as to how this would work). Now, CSH performs with Ethan Ives, Seth Dalby and Andrew Katz (a man on a mission to make headbands great again), and the three members of Naked Giants to boot.

Alas, I digress. Where was I? Of course, I was about to explain how the Kentish Town Performance dispelled every possible complaint that the nit-picking reviewer could have. Let’s call this a Review of Reviews, or a Critique de la Critics.

Part 2. Finally, a Review: Reviewing of Style

Firstly, CSH’s sound. In a sentence: It’s, on occasion, Weezer with a wheezy cough. Songs such as ‘Cute Thing’, or the finale, ‘Beach-Life-In-Death’ are testament to this. This is an important artistic decision, however. As accomplished musicians, they are fully capable of performing cleanly and precisely (just listen to the introduction to ‘Vincent’), but that is not what makes CSH unique. It is the lo-fi sound that brought CSH to fame through Bandcamp anyhow.

It speaks to the crowd, it makes you want to gather your dustbin lids and sticks and write your own music. When seeing a band live, my thought process goes something like: This is great, I’d want to do this. After this gig, my train of thought departed at 9:01 from This is Great, to the next stop, “I’m going to do this”. It was perhaps the most inspiring gig I’ve been to.

The main body of the concert mainly consisted of songs from CSH’s two previous albums: Twin Fantasy and Teens of Denial – ‘Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales’, ‘Bodys’, ‘Fill in the Blank’ and ‘Drugs with Friends’, to give it its nickname)

However, the stand-out performance of the concert was, by far, a CSH-Naked Giants co-medley of ‘Sober to Death’ and a cover of Neil Young’s ‘Powderfinger’ sung by CSH lead guitarist, Ethan Ives. This cover is worthy of a review of its own. Honestly, check out CSH’s rendition on KEXP’s Youtube channel. The harmonies are beautiful, their stage presence commanding (props to Naked Giant’s Gianni Aiello on the Cowbell, played majestically). The dichotomy between Toledo’s personalised lyrics of teenage years spent in distress to Young’s story account of Civil War and Youth is stunning, made more remarkable by how smoothly the two songs seem together. To address the Critics’ second strife, if evidence was ever required for how far CSH has come as a band, this song is it.

Part 3: Something Soon

As the dying reverbs of ‘Something Soon’ marked the end of the set, the performance left those in the crowd wanting more. Each song in the set is a testament to how far the band has come: they have developed their own unique sound, they are fun and they have a strong following (you should hear a crowd of frothing-at-the-mouth CSH fans chanting “I don’t want to have Schizophrenia” in ‘Beach-Life-In-Death’). Moreover, they are a creative force without parallel. They have released 12 albums before their founders 27th Birthday. If this live performance is anything to go by, then they don’t seem to be stagnating just yet. Let’s sit back and enjoy the ride.

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