LIVE: Car Seat Headrest @ Manchester Ritz

By Will Whitby

It’s rare that a band whose last album peaked at number 198 in the UK gain as much anticipation as, Car Seat Headrest. The lo-fi garage rock band from Virginia have been rapidly gaining notoriety globally for their grim but youthful guitar jams contrasted with bittersweet lyrics to scream in the shower and keep you up at night. Tonight, with support from Nothing, they played to a packed and eager Manchester crowd.

The driving force of Car Seat Headrest is frontman, Will Toledo, who is an enigma in a sea of mundane “say whatever” frontmen of recent times. The youthful slim build young man emerged to the crowd with little more than a mumble and an attire far more clean cut than his opposing savage and, at times, challenging lyrics. Toledo said few, if any, words to the crowd, which merely added to his stand-offish approach.Despite his smart-casual demeanour, he had creative control over Car Seat Headrest’s two albums- both heralded for their gritty guitar work and to-the-bone subjects. His first, when signing to Matador Records, was 2015’s ‘Teens of Style’ which paved out to be a collection of songs from the bands formative years.

More notably, the band’s second release in 2016 ‘Teens of Denial’ scored rave reviews across the world, despite being released less than 8 months after their debut. It displayed Toledo’s scathing lyrics, however, his relaxed attitudes are something that attracted fans that wouldn’t necessarily seek his dark lo-fi and shoegaze influences. Drummer and bassist, Andrew Katz and Steph Dalby, gladly blended into the darkness with guitarist, Ethan Ives, providing valiant long-haired support for Toledo’s vocals and driving guitar.

Essentially, Car Seat Headrest are a lo-fi shoegaze band with lyrics that wouldn’t go a miss on a Sorority Noise record but draw massive attraction from a more conventional indie rock crowd. You could see across the audience at Manchester’s O2 Ritz the band t-shirts on fans from anyone from The National to Modern Baseball.

This bittersweet contrast is found no more so than set opener ‘Fill in The Blank.’ A strong, get-up-and-go riff that pleased a Manchester rock crowd but compiled to prose that have an immense darker deeper meaning- “You have no right to be depressed, you haven’t tried hard enough to like it.”

Saying very little in-between tracks the band simply played through their set. The only thing splitting it came as a motionless Toledo noodled inventive guitar lines alongside child-like vocals crossing over the speakers.

Singalongs came with the long-named “(Joe Gets Kicked out of School for Using) Drugs with Friends (But Says This Isn’t a Problem.)” The track sees the protagonist explore drugs in their teenage years to then come to terms with the consequences. Never has “Drugs are better, friends are better, friends are better with drugs” been sang by a crowd so optimistically.

The peak of the show came with standout track from the album ‘Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales.’ A sweet slow burner to begin as the clean lines labour through to an expertly crafted crescendo- a powerfully honest song tackling the savagery of alcoholism and mental illness.

Tonight as the crowd left into the unusually cold Manchester evening, Car Seat Headrest defied what most would consider as convention. Some bands aren’t in it for the image, they’re just there to play music that makes you think and enjoy and question yourself.