Car Seat Headrest at the Great American Music Hall, by Patric Carver
Car Seat Headrest (photo: Patric Carver)

As recently-christened champions of indie rock, Car Seat Headrest played their fourth victory lap this year through San Francisco on November 14, 2016. The show was one of their last stops on the Werst Coast before leaving the states to tour Australia. They drew an impressive crowd for a group that has frequented the Bay Area so often this year.

The crowd was so frenzied and focused that openers Naked Giants could have phoned it in and gotten away with it. However, their set was solid and inspired. They played seemingly endless noodles of punching rock and roll that was segmented by hollow, echoing vocals that hearkened back to early ’70s power hits like Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.” I don’t want to give you the impression that their sound was antiquated, however, because it was not. They were as fresh and relevant as any band without the sullen, lo-fi moping intertwined with the identity of most of their contemporaries. Simply, Naked Giants produced engineered rock and roll that actually rocked.

Car Seat Headrest shifted into a more low-key tone that was nonetheless polished. The band is fronted by Will Toledo, who up until recently was working solo. You can tell that this is Toledo’s labor of love by his stage presence. Though now on Matador Records, the majority of Car Sear Headrest’s previous material was self-released. Toledo’s entire presentation — from his Elvis Costello-esque nerdcore looks to his disarming mumbles between songs — tells you he was not molded into being a rock star. His vocals were fuzzy, sometimes even hard to make out, but soaked in charm and poetry. His guitar-playing was evocative and steady. He illustrated that he is a musician’s musician — respectful of and honest with his craft.

Known for their large online following, Car Seat Headrest is navigating new ground successfully. In an age when the music industry seems to be bleeding itself out as a sacrificial lamb on the altar of anti-progress, Toledo shows a little light and hope in the direction of being able to use digital media.