“Rock and roll man!” a guy screams over the heads of the packed Ritz crowd, “rock and roll!”. Not the first act you’d associate with sex and drugs – but nevertheless amazing – tonight is Car Seat Headrest’s first gig back in Manchester since their sold out Gorilla show earlier this year. 2016’s Teens of Denial is still very much a staple on everyone’s playlists – and with latest single ‘War Is Coming (If You Want It)’ achieving some well-deserved respect after its release aided Bandcamp’s Transgender Law Centre fundraiser, it’s pretty clear that Will Toledo and co are currently hotter than ever.
‘Fill in the Blank’ is a somewhat tepid opener, sorely missing Seth Dalby’s bass – but it’s only a warm-up for what’s to come ahead. 2015’s Teens of Style makes an appearance in the form of ‘Maud Gone’, and Toledo sounds more comfortable than ever, throwing in some additional, cleverly used samples that propel the song to new heights. Older material is slightly lost on a crowd that’s won over by the quartet’s latest lo-fi anthems, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a quiet one; both ‘Beast Monster Thing (Love Isn’t Love Enough’ and ‘America (Never Been)’ display beautiful chord progressions and haunting vocals that hit home to the die-hards in the room.
It doesn’t get more explosive at a Car Seat Headrest gig than ‘Destroyed By Hippy Powers’ – and what an explosion it is. Ethan Ives’ Pixies-inspired riff perfectly complements the insanely colourful light show and Andrew Katz’s menacing drums. It’s easy to assume that Toledo’s band would be an act better suited for the studio – but at times like this, and during ‘Vincent’, too, it’s clear that the louder and more energetic the number, the bigger and more beautiful the pay off.
Toledo has the rare ability to summon an audience sing-a-long without a seconds notice – and tonight is no exception. ‘(Joe Gets Kicked Out Of School For Using) Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn’t A Problem)’ is the definitive explanation of a shit acid trip, and the crowd mimics the transcendental experience as heads are thrown back to belt out “drugs are better than friends!”. It’s an impeccable sight to behold – but there’s no question that ‘Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales’ is the night’s ultimate highlight, an anthem that summons roars of cheers and sees a group of three hoist each other up onto each others shoulders, swaying and yelling in time to the beat.
Despite the crowd’s frenzy and hype, Toledo and co know exactly how to act, remaining nonchalant and chill throughout the set. Is it down to stage nerves, or a “don’t give a fuck” attitude? Whichever one’s the answer, it only goes to prove one thing – that Car Seat Headrest are up there as one of the best live acts around.