Car Seat Headrest and the rise of the ultimate student band

The first thought yesterday evening was: We have a new David Byrne on stage! But Will Toledo, the singer of Car Seat Headrest, is not the charismatic frontman and entertainer of his Talking Heads-colleague. That’s why the second thought is much more accurate: Car Seat Headrest might be the new Talking Heads, the ultimate student band. Intellectual, indie and with a bunch of irresistible songs.

It’s always extremely cool to see a band grow up and mature over the years. Car Seat Headrest is a prime example: Their first visit to Berlin in 2016 in Bi Nuu was exhilirating, because of their brilliant new album Teens Of Denial, but the gig had its highs and lows. In Musik und Frieden in spring 2017 it was way more mature and solid, but the festival gig in August 2017 was a mess: Will Toledo looked like a tired, uninspired mess and packed his stuff on stage and left a couple of minutes before the end of the show, leaving his bandmates to finish it. It was either a brilliant Andy Kaufman act, or this guy was seriously struggling with himself at the end of a very long tour.

Sexuality

It’s no news for people who have read his lyrics that he is struggling. It never occurred to me this was all mostly about his sexuality, until I read a blogpost which takes a deeper look at the lyrics of Twin Fantasy, a record released already in 2011. “I pretended I was drunk when I came out to my friends/ I never came out to my friends”, he says in the epic Beach Life-In-Death. But the rest of the song leaves little to the imagination: “It’s been a year since we first met/ I don’t know if we’re boyfriends yet.”

Is it important? Yes and no. It’s awesome that someone is writing and singing so honestly and openly about his struggle with his sexuality, whichever that may be. But if he wants to become a spokesman for the gay community should be all up to him, as it should also be his choice to talk about his sexuality or not.

Music

The most important thing, of course, is that it leads to goddamn good music. Teens Of Denial is undoubtedly i that category. After that runaway success on his label debut, Toledo decided to re-record Twin Fantasy. He used to work really lo-fi, recording most of his songs at home and in his car (hence the band title), but now he had a budget to give those old songs a well-deserved boost.

The accompanying tour showed a completely revamped and reinvigorated band. Andrew Katz and Seth Dalby still form the rhythm section, but guitarist Ethan Ives stayed in the US because of a small burn-out and was replaced by the three guys from support act Naked Giants, also from Seattle.

That gave the sound a huge boost, especially with percussion added to the mix. And a second guitar meant Toledo could focus mainly on singing and… dancing! Yes, the 26-year old was jumping and dancing around as you would expect from a highschool nerd: slightly awkward, slightly in his own world, but also completely authentic.

Indie

He will probably never be a showman like Tom Smith of The Editors, but it makes him the guy next door you can actually relate to. Case in point: The mainly under-25s in the audience of Festsaal Kreuzberg were singing most of the lyrics line by line.

It would go too far to say Toledo is a spokesman of that generation, but he is definitely becoming an indie hero. How appropriate that they started their gig with a Talking Heads (Crosseyed and Painless), which was so funky you would almost hope that Car Seat Headrest’s next musical move would be in that direction.

The rest of the gig? A smart mix of songs of Twin Fantasy and Teens Of Denial, which made sure the attention level only dropped during deep cut America (Never Been). The progress over these last two years has been pretty much impressive, which only leaves the question: where does it go from here?