The first time Will Toledo brought his college rock collective Car Seat Headrest to the north west was in 2016. Teens of Denial was only a few months old and his previous twelve albums (that’s right, TWELVE!) produced over a five year period had not really made significant waves on this side of the Atlantic. The 2016 performance at Manchester’s compact Deaf Institute was certainly a thrilling tour de force but there was no doubting that Toledo’s targeted fanbase had not completely latched on to his astute and candid material just yet. Fast forward a couple of years and the hot and sticky crowd inside Liverpool’s relatively new and utterly magnificent warehouse venue Invisible Wind Factory demonstrate things have shifted since then. They’re young, misrepresented and they’re here to embrace a musician who seems to penetrate through the misconceptions of growing up in the twenty-first century.
After Naked Giants ably warm up the crowd with hectic, kinetic energy, this band return one by one as perfect foils for Toldedo’s more guarded stage presence, and they gradually construct the foundations for Talking Heads‘ ‘Crosseyed and Painless’ before Toledo eventually arrives. The origins of the song may not resonate with many, but the infectious groove and significant musical flourishes the song provides means the evening begins in vivacious fashion.
Thirteenth album Twin Fantasy (Face to Face) was released in February and is a return to an original lo-fi recording Twin Fantasy (Mirror to Mirror). Reimagining a seven year old record may seem precipitous but this is proof that Toledo knows his crowd; a personal exposition of depression and relationships was bound to connect and one of the album highlights follows this evening. ‘Bodys’ is an uptempo stream of consciousness that is reminiscent of a young Julian Casablancas‘ fuck-it approach with The Strokes and the frenetic energy of the track induces a writhing mosh pit that swirls unapologetically. Guitarist Grant Mullen clearly appreciates the energetic response and the whole band feed off the unbridled passion demonstrated by the crowd for the rest of the evening. Teens of Denial‘s ‘Fill in the Blank’ has also gone under the knife somewhat and a remodeled intro morphs like Frankenstein’s monster as a revitalised behemoth of youthful angst.
Regular guitarist Ethan Ives is taking a break from touring and the Naked Giants duo of Mullen and Gianni Aiello have taken on these duties meaning Toledo, guitarless, has now become the exposed and undesired frontman. You get the impression that recording tracks on the back seat of his car never prepared him for the glare of the spotlight and he hides behind an outrageously rampant fringe with little interaction with the crowd. These inhibitions don’t affect the crowd’s response to the wonderfully titled ‘(Joe Gets Kicked Out of School for Using) Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn’t a Problem)’ and they sing back the witty, perspicacious chorus back to him with glee; there’s even a hint of a grin of acknowledgement from Toledo, a satisfaction that his words and sentiments are reaching the right bunch of similarly ignored and misunderstood folk. This is his generation.
‘Cute Thing’ demonstrates the evolution of his musical passions and also a recognition of his own limitations. The original song on the 2011 version of Twin Fantasy name-checks Dan Bejar and John Entwistle but these have been tweaked for 2018 when he sings “give me Frank Ocean’s voice and James Brown’s stage presence” – this is why we love Car Seat Headrest; it’s not polished, it’s not choreographed and neither is the life he sings about. In deference to Ocean we’re treated to a synth-led interpretation of ‘White Ferrari’, following a return to ‘Destroyed by Hippie Powers’ and the inimitable ‘Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales’.
‘Beach Life-In-Death’ concludes the evening and its nonchalant vocals, the jagged punk of its guitars and the kinetic clatter of its percussion further reinforces the notion that we should no longer be lamenting the loss of The Strokes. Car Seat Headrest have drawn a line under that old argument with a pinch of anger, a healthy side of angst and lashings of a malaise that his fans are truly connecting with.
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Images: Iain Fox