words + photos: Everly Jazi
What started as a solo project in the back seat of Will Toledo’s car has become a fully fleshed, lo-fi heaven, music providing a haven for fidgety outsiders with angst, ruminating thoughts and many emotions. Friday night, in their current home of Seattle, Car Seat Headrest played their first of two shows at the Showbox.
Naked Giants, the project of the three Car Seat Headrest touring members, started things out. A sea of friends and family cheered as they played their garage rock with just the right amount of anger and demand to validate a grunge influence. The guitar and drum improvisation with the underlying and equally as intense basslines garnered synchronized nods from the crowd.
The trio experimented with different song structures, moving away from the traditional verse-chorus-bridge model to a more unique multi-tempo variation. Still, their melodies flowed well and, with the energy and talent that were showcased, it was no surprise that Toledo asked them to join the main act.
Car Seat Headrest was welcomed in. The band made a point to tweak their original studio versions in performance, something that the attentive audience very obviously appreciated. The seven bandmates worth of instrumentation and vocals turned into so much more with the very active and aware audience singing to every confessional chorus and hopping to every beat.
With two guitars, two percussionists, two bass players, synth, and keyboard, Toledo could sing and dance, free from the rhythmic guitar he used to rely on for layering. His dance paralleled Thom Yorke’s in eccentricity, but was distinctly out of pure joy and sensation without any vanity about it.
The band started with what seems to be the only cover of “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” they have ever performed. After a brief nibble of the re-recorded Twin Fantasy, they skipped to a couple of Teens of Denial tracks, vocals from Toledo, Ethan Ives and Grant Mullen intermingling with progressive riffs and insistent drum fills.
The band went back to the reissue with “Cute Thing,” a track that exemplifies Car Seat Headrest’s numerous melodic parts in each song. At the end of the track, the band cut to half-time and Toledo’s voice rang over Ives and Mullen’s falling guitar riffs, ballad drums holding it all together. They went on to play their much-anticipated version of “Sober to Death” with Neil Young and Stevie Wonder covers mixed in. Two harmonic guitars came in with cymbal-heavy kit rhythms. The version of the song morphed into a slow-tempo folk track. Toledo’s monotone vocals paired with the sunshine yellow rays of light from the venue’s ceiling became a sort of bliss. The song ended with five tags with grandiose drum fills, and two with just vocals and Aiello on synth and keys.
On “America (Never Been),” Henry LaVallee’s drum pad and Andrew Katz snare-focused beats starred. The bridge offered space for an ethereal synth line to creep in with hollow-sounding guitars. Toledo built up his vocals then ended abruptly, much like the studio version.
“This is a deep cut called “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales,” Toledo said ironically before launching into the widely known track. It was a subdued, slow version, complete with palm-muting and a disco ball. Audience members were pulled on stage to help with cowbell.
“We’re doing this one regular style,” Toledo announced before “Beach Life-In-Death.” “Regular style, no spicy,” another bandmate added. They took a break, came back for an encore and ended on another cover: “Hey Ya.” On the fun track, Toledo went through the audience call-and-response, grabbed a pair of maracas and danced wildly.