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A Guy, A Car, A Band

Some know him as Will Toledo, while others simply by the enticing yet waggish title that leaves new listeners puzzled: Car Seat Headrest. For Toledo, his stage name emanated from the birthplace of his music career. As a broke college student living in Leesburg, Virginia, Toledo found solace in a rather strange location: the backseat of his car. He began recording the vocals for his first albums in the comfort of his car, and from there himself and his band have almost instantly become an American indie rock sensation.

 

Unrest for Car Seat Headrest

Despite the band’s immense popularity as a result of their most recent album, Teens of Denial, which was released in May 2016 to acclaim by publications like Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, and Paste, band members Will Toledo, Ethan Ives, Andrew Katz, and Seth Dalby still remain relatively unrecognised. For that reason, the band had originally been booked to play at Whelan’s on the 27th of March, but due to high demand the gig moved to The Academy. As a devoted fan of the band, who hail from Seattle, Washington, I was surprised to find that so many people in Ireland even knew who the musicians were. More to my astonishment was the passion that was palpable in the crowd the night of the 27th. I figured there’d be your usual cohort of people that didn’t even know the band, but were there for the craic. Maybe there were, but in the madness of crowd that stationed themselves directly in front of lead singer Will Toledo, you would have never known.

The band TRAMS opened the show with an intonation comfortingly similar to that of their colleagues, and the crowd was in a feverish craze, myself included. One of the greatest things about seeing a small band live is the level of respect the musicians seem to have for their fans. Car Seat Headrest was no exception. At around 9:30pm on Monday, the 27th of March, Will Toledo and his bandmates made their long anticipated debut in the heart of Dublin.

 

“A Confused, Chemically Dependent Twenty-Something”

As Pitchfork contributor Jeremy Gordon put so delicately, Will Toledo has based a lot of his most famous work on his drug use. He speaks to his audience about his self-actualization during his acid trips in “(Joe Gets Kicked Out of School for Using) Drugs with Friends (But Says This Isn’t a Problem)”. Toledo sings, “I get to know myself every weekend, and I’m weak”, as he alludes to finding himself through tripping. Like many artists, Toledo isn’t afraid of discussing his drug use, and the part it’s played in his life. Without a doubt, his lyrics are brilliant, but that isn’t to say that the lead singer’s way with words are what hold the band together.

The paramount aspect of Car Seat Headrest’s music is the balance of sonic cohesion with the total distinction of each element of the sound. Lead guitarist Ethan Ives’ expertise recalled virtuosos like Kurt Cobain, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix. Drummer Andrew Katz delivered an irresistible jam that had fans screaming lyrics and bopping uncontrollably. The bassist, Seth Dalby, does what any talented bassist does; he keeps the sound grounded and clean. This was an impressively polished performance; though the musicians have been a group for only a few years, they work together with great precision and comfort. Every song ended on a crisp note, snapping from mosh-inducing static to silence in seconds.

After opening with their most notable single, “Fill in the Blank”, the atmosphere in the venue quickly ratcheted up a notch. Nearing the end of the night, the band got cheeky with the audience. They would rock out for a bit, with guitarist Ethan would sing the highest note he could. The crowd was jamming and about to lose it, and then it would all stop. And Toledo and co. would laugh at us, realizing they could mess with us for sport.

“Destroyed by Hippie Powers” was an apt choice of a closing song, and an instant success with a crowd which by that stage of the night could only be described as unhinged. The energy among the frantic audience elevated the gig to a night not easily forgotten. In the final moments of what is one of their best songs, Will Toledo was forced to his knees, appearing to offer all of himself to the world, no longer trying to control the unpredictability of being a twenty-something in the twenty-first century.