Manchester’s Deaf Institute has well and truly filled to capacity and the sense of anticipation is palpable as Will Toledo and his band nonchalantly launch into The Ending of Dramamine. The song comes from the LP How to Leave Town, the last of the twenty-three year old’s eleven, yes, ELEVEN albums to be self-released under the moniker Car Seat Headrest, using the internet site Bandcamp as his platform. The Virginian’s large following of fans along with this vast back catalogue of material led to Matador Records picking up Toledo and a compilation of songs called Teens of Style was released in 2015. This has been quickly followed by the studio-produced Teens of Denial just last month. It’s clear that the latter represents a development in Toledo’s musical approach, possibly enhanced by his geographic shift to Seattle which added the influence of producer Steve Fisk to the melting pot. Teens of Denial boasts a truly incredible collection of blistering introspection, lo-fi in spirit, evocative and relevant throughout and enhanced by production qualities that create an immersive depth and complexity that a lot of bands can only dream about. The album is certainly up there as one of the best records of 2016 so far and this explains the full house in Manchester tonight.
It is therefore unfortunate that local band Claw the Thin Ice open proceedings in the support slot to only a handful of punters, but their melodic quick-fire brand of heavy, indie-infused rock captures the imagination of those in attendance and Ian Breen’s vocal energy, along with the band’s innovative manipulation of rhythm and melody ensure that they quickly attract the attention of those lucky enough to arrive early. Claw the Thin Ice are clearly several rungs up from your run-of-the-mill rock band and it is extremely satisfying to see that Manchester’s proud tradition of producing innovative bands of real quality continues unabated.
Fill in the Blank is the brilliant opening track on Car Seat Headrest’s latest record and the crowd roar as it’s gritty riff rushes the room and Will Toledo informs us that “I’m so sick of… Fill in the Blank”. For the few who may have been unaware of the frontman’s confessional modus operandi, this song quickly initiates them and the room is quickly rocking to Toledo’s brutally honest outpourings that bear similarities to Courtney Barnett in the way they address such relatable emotional insecurities head on. Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales melodically shifts down a gear making it’s astute observations even more potent. “We are not a proud race/ It’s not a race at all” he sings before the anger spills over in the song’s raucous chorus which the crowd passionately sing along to. The connection that Will has clearly created with his fans is tangible and is only enhanced in the intimate confines of The Deaf Institute.
Vocal similarities with Julian Casablancas have been noted in the past and this observation is no more apparent than on the staggering Vincent which also possesses the erratic qualities of Faith No More during the Chuck Mosley era. The song is sprawling and unpredictable, a kind cathartic release following guitarist Ethan Ives’ spiky intro and we’re drawn into this all-American world which is seductive in it’s honesty. Based on tonight’s performance, the Casablancas connection appears more valid for other reasons. The Strokes were labelled the future of rock and roll upon the release of the iconic Is This It album and fifteen years later Will Toledo and his accomplished band are quickly adopting this same mantle. In Toledo’s hands though, this appears to be a more post-modern interpretation of what rock music should be about and he hurls his desperate observations out there like a quarterback throws a Hail Mary. Tonight’s performance of The Ballad of the Costa Concordia is a case in point. Epic, innovative and completely enthralling, it is the pinnacle of an incredible show that presents very ordinary fears and hang-ups in such a striking way that it never feels over-indulgent. Stop Smoking is performed solo and stripped back, harking back to the Virginian’s DIY beginnings before the blistering Something Soon encore completes a staggering Manchester debut.
Car Seat Headrest
Claw the Thin Ice
Follow updates from Car Seat Headrest here.
Review and Photos by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto