There was some great music last Wednesday night in Asheville. My co-editor Tom Cartmel and I ran into some other Savannahians who had made the 300-mile drive for Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, but we were there for Car Seat Headrest at The Orange Peel.
If you’re new to Car Seat Headrest, you should know that the band started as a solo project launched by Will Toledo in 2010. Toledo — now 24 — posted some incredible work directly to Bandcamp. Check out, for example, the 14-minute “The Ending of Dramamine” from the 2014 album How To Leave Town or “Don’t Remind Me” from 2013’s Nervous Young Man, which could emerge as one of the most enduring artistic documents of growing up in our overexposed social media age. I’m not even exaggerating.
Car Seat Headrest still posts music to Bandcamp, but the two most recent records — the equally exquisite Teens of Style and Teens of Denial — were released by Matador Records. 2016’s Teens of Style was a regular entry on critics’ year-end lists; here’s what Tom had to say about the album in his annual recap:
Far and away my #1, I listened to this album constantly during the last half of 2016, often several times a day. If I wrote a review of this album it would come off as a ridiculously embarrassing, head-over-heels love letter singing praises about the lyrics, the song construction, the little musical flourishes…ughh…
For all the praise, Car Seat Headrest hasn’t yet broken through into the mainstream consciousness. I’ve been recommending the band to anyone who asks what I’m listening to these days — middle-aged friends who follow music closely, random people who think they have to ask a music-related question when they meet me, even a whole class of first-year literature students at Armstrong — and I’m nearly always met by blank stares.
It was wonderful to see so many teenagers mixed with so many older fans at the all-ages show at the Peel, all singing along to songs like “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” and “(Joe Gets Kicked Out of School for Using) Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn’t a Problem)”.
No surprise that Toledo and company sounded tight and seamless, and there was only one surprise to me on the setlist: the final encore song “Beast Monster Thing (Love Isn’t Love Enough)” from 2014.
For an artist who has laid bare so much of his life, Toledo has a certain admirable reserve on stage. There was almost no banter at the Asheville show, and there wasn’t any merch available either — so no chance for fans to mingle with any of the band members. The band put the songs and the emotion out there, brilliantly, but Toledo himself seemed somewhat guarded, protected by glasses, now-shaggy hair, the mic, the backlighting. I don’t mean any of that to be critical by the way — not at all. It’s the music that matters.
From Asheville, Car Seat Headrest headed to Headliners in Louisville and then Bonnaroo for a set that Consequence of Sound placed among the festival’s best. Again, no surprise.
Nap Eyes from Halifax opened the show with a fairly quiet sort-of-slackery set that seemed a perfect prelude to Car Seat Headrest. Nap Eyes is still new to me (although it turns out that I know guitarist Brad Loughead from his Savannah Stopover appearances with Each Other), but the recorded work has me hooked. The band’s 2016 album Thought Rock Fish Scale got a rare rave review from Pitchfork.
Click on through for more photos of both acts.