Where should you start off with Car Seat Headrest? Should your jumping off point be 2016’s breakthrough art rock of Teens of Denial? Do you take a step back and tackle their Matador debut Teens of Style? Or does completionism demand a complete tour of the roughly a dozen albums Will Toledo recorded in his bedroom and released to Bandcamp over the past few years?
The Car Seat Headrest main man has made the choice even more difficult by choosing to follow up the acclaimed Teens of Denialwith a reissue/reimagining of Twin Fantasy, one of the aforesaid bedroom albums from 2011, now given the full band treatment.
Whatever your point of entry to the discography of Car Seat Headrest (great band, truly atrocious name), as you walk into the ABC and see the assembled masses, it’s clear that the American’s have become a legit phenomenon.
Opening with a cover of Talking Heads’ ultra-tight ‘Cross Eyed and Painless’, it’s a completely different set up to the lo-fi gang who slayed St Luke’s a year ago, with Toledo ditching guitar duties to take centre stage.
As Talking Heads fades away, he kicks off a staggering opening run through Twin Fantasy’s ‘Bodys’ and Teens of Denial’s scene setter ‘Fill in the Blanks’.
‘Bodys’ in particular shows off Toledo’s self-aware humour, casting himself as a bemused onlooker deadpanning “Is it the Chorus yet? No, it’s just the building of the verse so when the chorus does come, it’ll be more rewarding.”
Meanwhile his bandmates are total pros, kicking their way through punchy Cheap Trick power pop and scratchy Television breakdowns.
‘Drugs with Friends’ and the scathing ‘Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales’ deliver the sing-songs while a tentative cover of Frank Ocean’s ‘White Ferrari’ offers a moment of spontaneity
Amidst all this Toledo shakes his gangly frame, unspooling his limbs like he’s not quite sure where they’re going next.
He’s a long way from your typical rock god but when he sings “I wish I had James Brown’s stage presence” he’s got the whipsmart demeanour of a young David Byrne.
A lengthy, restarted ‘Beach Life in Death’ and a jittery ‘Nervous Young Inhumans’ close the show in a slightly disjointed fashion, but it’s remarkable to see the journey that Car Seat Headrest have taken over the past few years unfolding in front of you.
With Will Toledo in the driving seat, every stop on the journey is worth the ride.
Words: Max Sefton