Dark and mysterious trio Traams look as serious as the weatherman before a hurricane opening for the eagerly awaited Car Seat Headrest at Brudenell Social Club. Traams barely breathe a word facing each other, grinding their guitar and bass together in front of the kit producing post-punk heavy brooding jams. They flourish instrumental melodic phrasings with minimal vocals compiled in a set that flows evenly. Their elusive and intriguing aura warms up Brudenell for the main act.
Car Seat Headrest launch into the two opening tracks of their hugely critically acclaimed 2016 album “Teens of Denial” after the band thank the audience for their ‘raucous’ welcome. A gig sold out for months, the animated crowd are the lucky ticket holders herded into Brudenell tonight. With only three UK dates on this tour they have announced an additional performance at Leeds Stylus on 31 August, a larger capacity venue to satisfy their rapidly increasing number of followers.
The humbled male four piece have a cartoon-like image and an amusing, light-hearted vitality. Founder and front anime character Will Toledo wears a black turtleneck with a mop of dark hair bigger than his face covering his thick square glasses. He doesn’t break a sweat – or at least creates that illusion. He leads intricately crafted songs accompanied by aggressive guitars, bass and drums. They are fresh, pure and exciting despite this traditional live back line. Echoing The New Pornographers, the backing vocals of shaggy haired guitarist, Ives, emphasizes their raw qualities. Their songs performed live evoke more energy and sophistication.They effortlessly present a satirical performance.
The track ‘Vincent’ is a slightly altered for the event but still has a long introduction concluded with Toledo loosening his guitar and calmly delivering the outburst ‘I’m like this’. The final word ‘say’ has a big impact in two part accapella with Ives. Car Seat Headrest have a certain touch which makes them a shining beacon in the ocean of Indie bands competing for attention today.
In moments they sound like Queens of the Stone Age but on closer scrutiny the sensitivity alike to Neutral Milk Hotel is registered. They sound angry, sad and care-free simultaneously – moving little on stage yet manufacturing a massive output. They stick honestly to their DIY roots with intricate texture in the guitar and bass riffs with interchanging rhythms.
We could be emos back in the Noughties with no guilt for loving the majority of Car Seat Headrest songs which contain a memorable lyric that makes you chuckle, grimace or cry. Toledo crafts intelligent phrases with unique vocal melodies on relatable topics. ‘1937 State Park’ mutters inaudible verse over Dalby’s minimalistic bass donned by the climaxing chorus ‘I didn’t want you to hear that shake in my voice / My pain is my own’.
A mosh pit is growing larger as the set progresses and Katz, on drums, builds ‘Unforgiving Girl (She’s Not An)’ to drop out and leave space for Toledo to sing one of my favourite lyrics ‘This isn’t sex / I don’t think / It’s just extreme empathy’. The chorus is another assertive outburst. The songs cleverly drape melancholic lyrics and vocal tones over forceful instrumentation with dips in texture to move in a new direction.
The rowdy largely male crowd are actually asked to ‘sssh’ by Toledo as he attempts to mellow the mood singing ‘Maud Gone’ a track from one of his 12 self-released Bandcamp albums, Monomania. The crowd struggle to keep silent even if only to capture such sorrow as the line ‘when I’m in bed / I’m dead / no one to check my pulse’.
Bursting to dance the audience vigorously snowball through ‘Destroyed By Hippie Powers’ into the biggest hit ‘Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales’. By the epic final chorus, almost the whole (probably drunk and hopefully not driving) lower floor are thrashing against each other chanting ‘It doesn’t have to be like this’.
Finally the crowd calm down during a dulcet number before the band exit stage for a longer break than merits a Kit-Kat.They eventually return announcing they were not teasing but that they ‘couldn’t decide what to do.’ It’s hard to believe such a set was not militarily prepared as Toledo speaks to Katz ‘…fuck you! We’re doing ‘Connect The Dots’’. He has no guitar and sharply punches his fists alternating sides at tempo with Katz, singing in his temperamental tone ‘Little boy says I’ll be in love with my fists’.
Car Seat Headrest’s prolific songwriting and on stage electricity are the reasons they are doing so well. They seem to be distinct characters providing complex and unique compositions to eager listeners. Leeds can’t wait for what’s next and I’m certain the follow up performance in August will be another sell out worth more than the ticket price.