Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest has all but solidified his indie deification over the span
of the past year – his apocryphal (and prolific) bedroom production output, bandcamp savant status that preceded his alignment with Matador Records, and subsequent within a year releases of Teens of Denial and Teens of Style which were followed by extensive tour stops in support of both records. What once served as nothing more than a therapeutic outlet for self-expression – recording in the back seats of vans (thus the namesakes) and bedrooms – has become a highly connective external endeavor; whether or not that was Toledo’s intention remains to be seen.
Toledo is unassuming as he takes the Mercy Lounge stage – he’s wearing a suit that isn’t ill fitting, but certainly appears to be draped over his tall, slender build – and is met by enthusiastic applause and adulation of the bandcamp mining mass that undoubtedly grew up alongside Toledo.
He mutters something along the lines of “okay, we’re going to start, time to stop buying merch,” into the microphone and immediately drops into a solo rendition of “Way Down” that all but disarms the near sold out Mercy Lounge crowd the way his quip about the economics of live music should have.
The rest of Car Seat Headrest takes the stage amidst Toledo’s outro to the “Way Down,” dropping into a far more lively “Cosmic Hero” with the simplest of ease – an ease that you would expect from someone whose released 11 records by the age of 23 – and while the composition is certainly more lively, Toledo’s demeanor remains the same, the purveyor of emotion for the evening, burdened with reliving the cathartic scenario once more.
That’s not to say that it didn’t seem like Toledo wasn’t enjoying himself, it just seems safe to assume that Toledo’s would be perfectly fine with producing a song and never again returning to it, thus cementing his indie-appeal. Despite being the physical front man, Toledo was not the master of ceremonies, with the exception of a handful of additional clever quips when prompted by the evening’s emcee, drummer Andrew Katz.
Car Seat Headrest’s set was an almost unrealistically strong exhibition of young “savanthood” for all members of the band – guitarist Ethan Ives playing with fervor and fury despite a gimp wrist in particular. In between “Times to Dies” and “The Gun Song,” emcee Andrew continued the inter-set segues, having set out a number of questions on the back of a paper plate as his band mates tuned up. He asked guitarist Ethan Ives what his favorite Radiohead album was – Pablo Honey – to which Toledo misheard as “How’s the weather,” ready to skewer the truly banal question. The second question was directed toward Toledo, but eventually morphed into a comment on Toledo’s love of William Omnivore, to which he quipped “I love being told what I love,” before dropping into arguably the stand out track of the set, “The Gun Song.”
They closed with “The Ballad of the Costa Concordia” much to the chagrin to of the crowd, not because of any disdain for the track, but rather the fact that the band resisted the urge of putting on a marathon set saturated with deep cuts and medleys. Luckily for them, Toledo returned to affirm his zeitgeist appeal by covering a solo rendition of Frank Ocean’s “Ivy” before the rest of Car Seat Headrest returned to the stage to close out with “one more thingy and I hope you like it” (Toledo’s words, not mine), otherwise known as “Unforgiving Girl (She’s Not An).”
As Toledo and his band closed out the set with a raucous but deft bravado, it was hard to not become encapsulated by Toledo’s detached confidence, totally uninterested in the exuberant sold out Mercy Lounge crowd, only playing for catharsis. Toledo’s unassuming nature as the front man of Car Seat Headrest is the stuff romantic indie notions are made of, and all adulation is totally deserved, but in the end, Toledo knows that these things won’t necessarily last forever, as he left the stage with a simple message, “Thank you. Have a good night. I’m sure there’s some merch to buy somewhere.”