Live Review: Car Seat Headrest @ The Wiltern, July 20, 2018
On what would have been the night before the canceled 2018 FYF Fest (see you next year?), Car Seat Headrest instead played the Wiltern, their largest L.A. headline to date, and an all around fantastic performance going far to help solidify their ascendance as one of our best young bands.
While it’s well documented that the band is the brainchild of mastermind Will Toledo, CSH is very much a proper band today. On the current tour the core live four piece–Toledo (in full frontman singer mode rocking the mic sans guitar all night), Seth Dalby (bass), Andrew Katz (drums and Subway sandwich giveaway–you had to be there) and Ethan Ives (lead guitar)–are expended into a big, loud and tight seven-piece unit by Seattle’s Naked Giants (Gianni Aiello, Henry LaVallee, Grant Mullen), who themselves opened the show with a thoroughly entertaining storming rock power trio set of their own.
Drawing exclusively from the last two releases–2016‘s Teens of Denial, their major label debut for Matador and Twin Fantasy, the 2011 self-released LP newly rerecorded in higher fidelity and rereleased–the dynamic set showcased the range of Toledo’s songwriting, from long wordy epics (“Beach Life in Death”) and bouncy indie rock (“Bodys”).
The choice of covers tonight underscores Toledo’s eclectic taste and ambition–a take Neil Young’s “Powderfinger” is a coda of “Sober to Death”; Frank Ocean’s “White Ferraris” opens the encore and morphs into Twin Fantasy’s title track. A main set of just eight songs might seems like a small number but these tunes are meaty–long and dense little adventures one can lose themselves in and as a result never feel overlong–no small achievement.
The show is presented by KCSN 88.5, and while his tunes hit many of those nostalgic traditional indie rock sounds for that station’s older target demo, it’s clear he’s doing new things with those old sounds–lyrically and arrangement wise–and in turn reaching a younger audience, who have turned out tonight.
The show provided ample moments for them to shower affection at Toledo, who is clearly becoming a hero to his crowd. It’s probably an unfair (and mostly superficial) comparison, but he may be on his way to becoming this generation’s Stephen Malkmus, the lanky cult indie rock hero in an Oxford shirt and mop of hair who is thoughtful and literate.
The pillars of the set come from Teens of Denial: “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”, with it’s “it doesn’t have to be like this” climax singalong (a sentiment applicable to any of a number of today’s lousy situations), “Fill in the Blank,” which ditches it’s riff for a pleasing R.E.M.ified jangly arrangement, and, of course, “Destroyed by Hippie Powers,” the rousing closer of the night, sending the kids (and scattered elder indie vets in the loge seats) home on a high.