On a May evening at the Camden Roundhouse, Car Seat Headrest a.k.a. Will Toledo, everyone’s favourite overwrought, lower-case tweeting indie-darling, walks onstage with six other musicians - significant because it’s a far cry from a few years ago when he was playing all the instruments himself and uploading his albums to Bandcamp. Signing to Matador in 2016 has significantly beefed up Toledo’s sound (predominantly because his albums are no longer recorded on a Macbook), and along with that - his live performances. The set starts with a cover of Lou Reed’s ‘Waves of Fear’, droning notes building to a crescendo before the band launch into quite possibly the best gig opener since, er, ‘Fill in the Blank’ - Twin Fantasy’s ‘Bodys’.
Car Seat Headrest recently released a re-recorded version of Twin Fantasy, the album Toledo “Didn’t know how to finish” first time around when he uploaded it back in 2011. The previous version was a multifaceted, bedroom heartbreak record, but in re-recording it, that sweet Matador money has unsurprisingly made for a stronger, more urgent modern classic. New versions of tracks are mostly exactly the same, perhaps with a couple of lyrical references updated (on ‘Cute Thing’ - “I want a voice like Dan Bejar” is now “I want a voice like Frank Ocean’s” [fine] and “I want a stage presence like John Entwistle” is now “I want a stage presence like James Brown” [weird choice]). After ‘Bodys’ the band start bashing out the big ones from the two preceding albums, Teens of Style and Teens of Denial - ‘Fill In the Blanks’, ‘Hippie Powers’, ‘Drugs With Friends’ - it’s almost a greatest hits set, testament to the sheer volume of chorus-heavy bangers in Toledo’s back catalogue. As ‘Cute Thing’ comes to a barnstorming end, the band immediately launch into a Talking Heads cover (a CSH live staple) - Remain in Light’s ‘Crosseyed and Painless’. Skittering guitar and bass loop over backbeat drums, and Toledo bounces around the stage, eyes closed and singing to the ceiling.
Talking Heads is followed by pints-in-the-air singalong, ‘Drunk Drivers’ (complete with cowbell and maracas courtesy of support band Naked Giants) and closing with latest single, ‘Nervous Young Inhumans’. The band stalk off to thunderous applause before coming back 5 minutes later for an encore of some of Twin Fantasy’s quieter numbers, before following with twelve minute epic, ‘Beach Life in Death’, a song written seven years previous. In the past Toledo has referred to ‘Beach Life’, which is obviously one of the more personal songs (from a man whose stock-in-trade is personal songs) as the “albatross around his neck” (the song’s title is also a reference to The Ancient Mariner). By re-recording the album, in his new persona as one of his generation’s most adored alternative songwriters, perhaps Toledo has managed to slough off the albatross from his neck. He certainly can hold a crowd down.