May 8, 2018
Will Toledo, the creative force and frontman of Car Seat Headrest, re-recorded and re-conceptualized his 2011 album, Twin Fantasy, this past February. Met with critical acclaim, they’ve been touring in support of this reinterpretation, and last week, they made their way to Brooklyn to warm-up before their appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. On that Tuesday night, situated in a small venue with flimsy wooden floors that shook with each passing of the J and N train three feet outside the window, Toledo and company took the stage and put on a masterclass of what a concert can be.
Prior to Car Seat Headrest’s set, Gold Connections opened with an eight-song set that sat somewhere between Tom Petty and Bob Mould, with the frontman slipping from Dylan-esque croon to Julian Casablancas-like yelp within seconds. Typically, the opener is a band to dread seeing, hovering somewhere between awful and derivative, but usually both. Gold Connections were refreshingly confident and, if not entirely original, electric and charismatic in a way that made it easy to forget the heavy Big Star and Built to Spill influence. To put it another way, they managed to be talented and engaging at the same time. As an opener in 2018, this is no small feat.
When Car Seat Headrest took the stage at 8 p.m. (the Market Hotel, mercifully, seems to have a strict policy against shows that run later than 10 p.m.), they opened with a choreographed cover of Devo’s “Uncontrollable Urge” before Toledo introduced the band and spoke with the crowd. When they got to the third song, “Bodies,” Toledo had someone film the performance, since it was a six-plus minute song that needed to be played in four to meet the demands of The Tonight Show the following afternoon. Afterwards, they were informed that the song ran just over the needed running-time, and the band discussed how it could shave off those few extra seconds. While this might sound like an exercise in humblebragging, the band’s earnest engagement before and after the song made it compelling, and added a honest tension to the filmed concert song, which has become one of the most rote videos one can shoot in the 2010s.
Throughout the rest of the band’s 11-song set, they burned through crowd-pleasers like “Fill in the Blank,” “Sober to Death,” and “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” with an urgency and commitment to finding new depths and play within the songs that was reminiscent of bands like Archers of Loaf, Jimmy Eat World, or Pavement at the height of their popularity and power. Perhaps most notable was the fact that on a small stage, surrounded by six other men (three members of Naked Giants helped round out the sound), Will Toledo managed to be a lightning rod for one’s attention, dancing and moving like an ‘80s-era David Byrne, only to stop and just casually hold the mic like a stand-up. In a perfect world, Car Seat Headrest would be a household name and sell out Madison Square Garden. This isn’t a perfect world, which makes the band’s engagement and dedication to playing their brand of late-twenties alternative rock even more impressive. If they can mobilize a room of three hundred to pogo and nearly break the floor, then they could start a fire within any room they play, be it for 301 fans or 100,000.