You wait a long time for a band like Car Seat Headrest. There is a sense in Gorilla tonight that many of us have been waiting too long, with increasing impatience, for a new voice to emerge. Not just a band with tunes – we’ve got plenty of them. Not just a band with attitude – in fact, I think we can probably cope with a little less of that, thanks very much. But a band with a coherent and distinctive point of view; a lyrical style to match their musical style; a sense that they think in a meaningful way about our world, and see their songs as a chance to express it.
By the time the band released their album Teens of Denial last year, they had been recording and self-releasing albums for years, but it was this release that marked their major breakthrough. It is a 70-minute odyssey where frontman and key songwriter Will Toledo paints vividly with his sarcastic, disgruntled, occasionally depressive sense of humour, commenting as he goes on the mundanities and frustrations he encounters in the world, both trivial and profound.
“I’m so sick of…fill in the blank,” is the opening line of the album, and surely one of the best ever. It kicks off the gig tonight too, and is bellowed back by the several hundred-strong crowd, the gravity of the black comedy not lost on them. The line’s parent song is one of several from Teens of Denial that appear to have taken on a defiant, borderline anthemic quality for the rabid, ready-for-the-weekend fans in attendance, with every word punched into the air with passion.
The band look the part as much as they sound it. Toledo, perhaps a little counter-intuitively, is quite meek in person, somehow reminiscent of Jarvis Cocker or Johnny Marr in their youthful pride. Ethan Ives is your classic too-cool-for-school, aloof lead guitarist, able to unleash his spirit animal at the drop of a hat, while Andrew Katz’ clambering drums and Seth Dalby’s rock steady basslines steady the ship. Toledo’s undersold, wry charisma is captivating, surreptitiously slipping “shut the fuck up” in a quiet voice into one pre-chorus bridge, just as one of the more lubricated crowd members spoke up a little too much. He may be slight, but he is self-assured – you imagine he’d be one hell of a debater.
They sample some of their older material throughout the night, which the crowd attentively soaks up, audibly and understandably less familiar with it than the new stuff. The old ones tend to be more vulnerable, albeit still often climaxing in an electric frenzy – ‘Sober to Death’ in particular is one to seek out if you haven’t. However, it is the new material that the people are here for, and Car Seat Headrest don’t disappoint. ‘Unforgiving Girl (She’s Not An)’ and ‘Destroyed by Hippie Powers’ are modern day versions of the Pavement/Dinosaur Jr. slacker rock of the early 90s, but with a typically millennial, askance, sceptical slant.
The night’s biggest moment comes with the Teens of Denial centrepiece ‘Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales’, a psalm for the young generation. “We are not a proud race/It’s not a race at all/We’re just trying”, sings Toledo in unison with Gorilla. “Maybe we can learn how to start again/Like a child who’s never done wrong,” it continues, a mass confessional. “It doesn’t have to be like this” is the raging climax, repeated over and over, as if to convince each other that it could be true. By the song’s end, it is as if everyone has had a weight lifted from their shoulders. Somebody understands, and was able to articulate it, so that now we can share in the understanding together.
It’s all over far too soon, although tonight more than ever, the demand for an encore could not be ignored. They comply, returning with ‘Connect the Dots (The Saga of Frank Sinatra)’ to round off the evening with a bang, incorporating strains of Them’s ‘Gloria’ for good hedonistic measure. For context of how special this band are to their fans, half way through the night a newly married couple, still fully dressed up, arrive in the crowd, bouquets in hand. More remarkably, they are not even obviously happier than the folks surrounding them. That’s all you need to know.