It’s highly unlikely 2016 will be remembered as a good year for music by any measure. David Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen’s deaths are only the beginning of a long list of celebrities who have passed on this year.
Luckily, Seattle’s Car Seat Headrest has been the year’s saving grace in the music world.
On Thursday, Nov. 17, Car Seat Headrest returned to Eugene for a performance at WOW Hall that ended with a two-band cover of Talking Head’s classics.
Lead singer and songwriter Will Toledo is often regarded as the champion of the Bandcamp generation with his lo-fi, DIY sound. Toledo takes the band’s moniker from the makeshift recording studio he first recorded in: the back of his high school car. He self-released 11 albums as Car Seat Headrest prior to being signed by Matador Records, which released Teens of Style in 2015. The band’s newest album, 2016’s Teens of Denial, is easily one of the best of the year.
The show began with an energetic set by Eugene band Girls Punch Bears.
Naked Giants, a Seattle rock band with a psychedelic-punk edge, set a high bar to top with the middle performance slot. The band mixed a variety of ingredients including the loud-quiet-loud song structure of Pixies, the goofy dance moves and soundscapes of Devo, and the slacker attitude of Parquet Courts and Pavement.
Bassist Gianni Aiello wore a striped shirt tucked into his jeans and used his bass as more than a rhythmic instrument, rather, with a briefcase full of effects pedals, he used it to provide atmospheric sounds that complemented Grant Mullen’s never ending barrage of guitar riffs.
After Naked Giants set, Car Seat Headrest walked onto stage with Toledo resembling a youthful Roy Orbison in all black clothing and a black Fender Telecaster.
After a microphone failure during the first song of the night, the slow-burning “Vincent,” the band tried to push through the technical difficulties without vocals. Eventually, they had to stop and regather.
During the break, drummer Andrew Katz, a UO graduate, commented on the band’s history of encountering equipment issues in Eugene. During their last stop in town, a January show at Sam Bond’s Garage, Katz’s bass drum broke during the final song, and they couldn’t return for an encore.
Luckily, the technical difficulties were fixed quickly, but it gave Katz time to talk about growing up in Eugene. He claimed to have written a five minute speech about Donald Trump’s election, but he summarized the sentiment into a few sentences: “I know what you have here. Don’t change, Eugene.”
Within a matter of seconds, Car Seat Headrest proved how much it had grown as a band in the ten months since its last Eugene show. Ethan Ives has taken his lead guitar playing from a supporting pillar of the band’s sound into a full-fledged showstopper. Katz continues to be the hard-hitting drummer propelling the band forward, and Seth Dalby has bloomed into his role as the surefire bassist.
As a whole, they have transitioned from a Will Toledo led project into a band firing on all cylinders.
“Maud Gone” and “Strangers” were the only songs from Teens of Style, and both were fairly different from the recorded versions. “Maud Gone” was slowed down a bit, and without main synthesizer riff, Toledo delivered a yearning vocal performance.
With most of the set coming from the two Matador releases, fans of Toledo’s Bandcamp releases had to savor slower songs like “Sober to Death,” from 2011’s ambitious Twin Fantasy.
Teens of Denial’s “Fill in the Blank” found the crowd yelling in unison to Toledo’s vocals rallying cry of, “You have no right to be depressed/you haven’t tried hard enough to like it.” It was a cathartic celebration of anxiety and depression that energized the crowd for the rest of the night.
Much of Car Seat Headrest’s catalog thrives on themes of adolescent confusion and the catharsis that comes with that transitionary period of life. One such example is the sprawling “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales.” The crowd again sang aloud to nearly every word of the song. After the song ended, Toledo and Katz noted that the crowd added an extra sing-along chorus. Despite momentarily throwing the band off, Toledo later said the crowd was “the best of the tour.”
Toledo noted that Car Seat Headrest will perform a shortened version of the sprawling “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” on TV later this month. They debuted this slower, folky version of the song with Dylanesque delivery. It was met with almost as much adoration as the original.
The show ended with an encore of the Talking Heads’ “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” and “Psycho Killer” performed by both Naked Giants and the headliner. With Toledo crowd surfing and the crowd yelling, the night closed with a sense of unity in the room. Katz’s comment about Eugene from earlier in the night did not fall on deaf ears.