Detroit, Michigan (September 8, 2018) – The mood was a little bit different tonight. A little bit, let’s say, grittier. Partially because The Majestic Theatre is in the midst of a remodel, you can see parts of the buildings bones, you can peer into the structure, the skeleton. It’s raw. It’s beautiful. I’d argue the same about tonight’s headliner, Car Seat Headrest, there’s some grit there for sure. But there is also raw emotion in lead singer Will Toledo’s voice, some chords you’d swear he was bearing his bones to the crowd. I suppose it’s all in part due to a unique, lo-fi at times, sound that originated in the back seat of his car.
We’ll get back to all that though. Trust me.
To get the festivities kicked off with Naked Giants, a Seattle trio that has been touring with and lending a hand on stage to Car Seat Headrest, bringing a classic but also classic rock sound to a pretty packed house. Still fresh off the release of their debut album SLUFF earlier this year you could feel their energy and excitement on stage. Hair flips like whoa. High kicks that could rival those of Bruce Lee himself. Drop in a healthy dollop of crowd interaction, finger pointing, and general outlandishness and things take off pretty quick. I mean, when’s the last time you heard a band say, “Yeah, we’re gonna play Freebird now?” It was a blast to rock out with the crowd, a little bit of a pit, and lots of screaming lyrics back at the stage. These guys are a riot, so don’t sleep on them, and since you’re lucky you’ll see them back out on the stage with Car Seat Headrest in just a bit!
© Splice Magazine – David Painter. Please do not alter images.
It’s dark. You can see someone, no someone’s, walking by and then a rumble. It’s low, a loud but tactile hum. Silhouettes are lit in a dim purple. All of your senses read low. And as that hum begins to swell it is joined by a drum and finally by the vocals. Those vocals come courtesy of lead singer Will Toledo as he belts out Lou Reed’s “Waves of Fear.” Even with his rendition of this song there is still something raw, exposed.
From there we jump into a couple of back-to-back fun songs, the first of which being “Bodys” off February’s release of “Twin Fantasy (Face to Face),” a complete re-imagining of 2011’s “Twin Fantasy (Mirror to Mirror).” And it’s not some lover’s lament crap. It’s peppy, it’s happy, it’s up-tempo. It’s snappy. Everyone was swinging their hips. Welcome to an instant dance party. As the song goes on Will sings the line, “Those are you got some nice shoulders, I’d like to put my hands around them,” and if you’re paying attention you’ll find the main man on stage putting his own arms around his shoulders. It’s bearing one’s bones, showing the world what’s inside. After all, who doesn’t want to have someone to put their arms around?
What came next was a definitive crowd favorite, “Fill in the Blank.” An amazingly complex song lyrically that tells a story of one learning to deal with frustrations of life, people, and depression. Line’s like “I’m so sick of, fill in the blank” and “You have no right to be depressed, you haven’t tried hard enough to like it” evoke a send of just dealing, just getting by. That’s not to say this is a depressing song, quite the opposite, actually. But that is something that Will Toledo, who just celebrated his 26th birthday shortly before the start of this tour, has already become a master of. This guy knows how to tell a story.
Moving to the 4th song of their set, and I promise I won’t be writing about every track, has a bit of a lengthy title “(Joe Gets Kicked Out of School for Using) Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn’t a Problem).” The song revolves around choices made with alcohol and drugs and the effects they have both physically and mentally. Two songs in a row dealing with depression and I’ll keep saying it; it’s raw, just like Toledo’s performance. The best thing about hearing this song live is the sing-a-long that comes from that crowd towards the end as the lyrics turn cyclical, “Drugs are better, drugs are better with, Friends are better, friends are better with, Drugs are better, drugs are better with. Friends…” It’s fun. It makes people smile. It makes you turn to the person next to you and cheers them, because the only thing that can make this night better is having your friends. Friends are better, friends are better with music and music is better with friends.
Fast forward a few songs and you arrive at arguably Car Seat Headrest’s most successful track to date, “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales,” off 2016’s “Teens of Denial.” It was sometime around late 2015 or early 2016 that I discovered the band via Sirius stations XMU and Alt Nation, this song was getting loads of airtime and the track even took home the title of #1 song on the XMU Top 41 songs of 2016. 2 solid years later and this song is still a banger. The crow doesn’t just sing the words, they belt them out, loudly. At least after a slow, minutes long build up. And “Killer Whales” serves as yet another chance for Will Toledo to show off his entire vocal range from his delightfully high-pitched whispers to the, get ready for it, raw screams at the end of the track. He’s talented and it fits the song, but it makes me wonder how those screams modulate from night to night. Drawing on experiences talked about in previously songs, you can feel he’s leaving it all out there for you.
The pre-encore set ended with another personal favorite, “Something Soon,” a song dealing with personal struggles of a different kind, anxiety and suicide. But I cannot stress enough, this isn’t sad music, it’s Will expressing himself lyrically again. Fighting off the demons with references to biting his clothes, wanting to break something important, the feeling of heavy boots on his throat. “I need something soon, I need something soon” echoes multiple times throughout the chorus as Toledo bleeds himself out on stage. It’s a beautiful thing to witness.
A few minutes after walking off stage Naked Giants once again joined Car Seat Headrest to close things out with, “Beach Life-In-Death.” To change things up this one is a bit more of a love song and a great 3-part track to finish on. It sets a fun background for a stage full of performers as the song works through its, at times, frantic paces before the lulls and strike with lyrics like the end of Part II’s, “get eaten by the one you love, When they put their lips around you, You can feel their smile from the inside.” But as Part II fleets, Part III turns things up to the proverbial 11. Then, magically, it’s all over just as quickly as it started. The sound cuts and Toledo tells the crowd to, “Have a good one!” as he waves trailing the rest of the artists off stage.
Tonight represented the 3rd time in as many years seeing Car Seat Headrest in Detroit and I didn’t own a camera the first 2 times. I get giddy when these guys come to town, it was without a doubt, a bucket list show. Sure, my favorite song “1937 State Park” didn’t get played this time around and I miss Will performing in a suit and skinny tie, a move that always reminds me of the movie “That Thing You Do,” which I made reference to earlier and will do one more time before you’re done reading this. I have so much respect for this band and I am glad to see them continuing to grow and evolve. I’d love to sit down and interview the group one day, but for now I’m just wondering what’s their favorite kind of cheese?
Car Seat Headrest consists of lead vocalist Will Toledo, guitar player Ethan Ives, drummer and hilarious Instagram account runner Andrew Katz, and lastly TBP–Seth Dalby. “Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)” released February of this year and can be found anywhere you listen to music. Don’t miss out on one of the hottest indie acts around!