Car Seat Headrest (photo: Joshua Huver)
Car Seat Headrest crashed into the Fillmore for two nights in a row, Tuesday and Wednesday, July 17 and 18. The group is going on their second year as a touring act, and has moved quickly from an ultra-intimate solo project into a much bigger group effort.
When Car Seat Headrest first hit the road in 2016, Toledo was joined by longtime drummer Andrew Katz, guitarist Ethan Ives, and bassist Seth Dalby. They made their way across the country, riding waves through small venues like The Crepe Place where they were barely a blip on the radar. Two years and an additional three musicians later, Car Seat Headrest shows no sign of letting up.
On Tuesday, the raw and visceral energy behind Toledo’s vision was apparent from start to finish, beginning with a set by three-piece rockers Naked Giants. One part Jack White, another Dean Ween, and with all of the fervor of John Bonham, Naked Giants are pure rock and roll.
For 45 minutes, the trio stretched, spun, and sweated through at least 11 songs. A crash course in rock history, the band prizes their ability to dissect and reframe music through a contemporary lens, especially on the track “T.V.”
“From our perspective as millennials where everything is accessible all at once, there is no difference to us between punk and classic rock,” says Gianni Aiello. “We’re all observing it at the same time through the same lens. And yes, history exists, but if you’re just flipping through something on the TV, it all kind of conflates together. Kind of like the song does.”
A melodic mashing of progressive punk and extravagant displays of attitude characterize the band’s intense show. During the final song of their set, “Yaya,” the growing crowd warped into the first mosh pit of the night.
Apparently, in the last year, Will Toledo and Naked Giants have regularly combined forces, creating a supergroup of sorts. Grant Mullen joins the band on guitar, Aiello on keyboard and guitar, and Henry LaVallee moves from his drum kit to percussion. This arrangement frees Toledo up from performing any instruments and allows him to focus on his vocals and stage presence.
What once was a solo project that Toledo experienced from the confine of his own car has grown into a seven-piece rock orchestra. Despite the constant painting over and re-touching of past songs and projects, they have the talent to keep audiences engaged.
Even though the set list from Tuesday and Wednesday contained the exact same songs, it is clear they are not in it for the routine. There is no “set” approach, and the band keeps it interesting for themselves and the fans by mixing up the song order and engaging in sections of free-form improv and wild, acrobatic soloing.
Tuesday night opened with the epic “Beach Life-in-Death,” from the recent re-release and re-recording of the 2011 album Twin Fantasy as Twin Fantasy (Face to Face), which allowed everyone on stage to stretch out and find their spot. Unfortunately, Car Seat Headrest’s primary guitarist, Ives, was upsettingly low-volume in the mix. Completely over shadowed by the wild leads of Naked Giants’ Mullen, it was only possible to hear him when they weren’t playing over each other.
In the second song of the set, “Sober to Death”, the band jammed out and teased Neil Young’s “Powderfinger.” On Wednesday, they played the full song. They followed with “Fill in the Blank” from 2016’s Teens of Denial.
They returned again to Twin Fantasy for the next two songs as well, “Bodys” and “Cute Thing.” Much like Naked Giants claims to incorporate all of rock, Car Seat Headrest similarly channels the past. Throughout “Bodys,” I couldn’t stop hearing a faux mash-up of Nirvana and the Who, driving my curiosity in the band higher.
A false start intro to “Cosmic Hero” gave way to an exposed moment where these musicians must have appeared human to the throngs of screaming fans. “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” had the dance floor warping before the final song, “Nervous Young Inhumans.” Spanning over an hour with these eight songs, Toledo and Co. have mastered the art of transporting their audience. It could have been two hours had I not been watching the clock and taking notes when I could manage. It wasn’t easy considering an almost constant mosh pit that would stop and start with the ebb and flow of energy. and a full room of lyrics being screamed back at the stage transported me back to 2005 when I fell in love with The Academy Is…
For the encore, the band performed two songs. Beginning with “Maude Gone” and then “Destroyed By Hippie Powers,” an interestingly appropriate song to close in San Francisco. On “Hippie Powers,” Toledo meandered stage left and picked up a guitar. Aside from a tambourine earlier in the show, it was the only time he lent more than his voice in the moment.
Don’t sleep on this band, they’re only going to continue to grow.