Change often comes gradually, but sometimes the idea has been there all along but needed a reason to become visible. The elements of Car Seat Headrest’s most recent album, Make A Door Less Open, have been around — electronics, rock stylings — but more up on the stage than on wax. But, released in the midst of the pandemic, MADLO was primed to be performed live.
Taking on the masked persona, Trait — which in interviews Toledo has attributed to the beginnings of a side project with drummer, Andrew Katz — Toledo created his first new material in several years (2018’s Twin Fantasy being a rerecording of 2011’s album of the same name) alongside his band: Ethan Ives on guitar, Andrew Katz on drums, and Seth Dalby on bass. And the change from, mostly, a solo endeavor to a collaborative group effort has influenced the sound of Car Seat Headrest in many ways, but most notably the forward presence of electronic and dance-influenced elements. So, it was with high anticipation that Will and company rolled into DC Saturday night to perform at The Anthem.
Things were a little different due to DC native Bartees Strange not being able to perform due to Covid-19 issues, so in lieu of an opening set on April 2, Katz walked onto the stage with an easel and a set of thick colorful markers and began to do an impromptu painting. As he started in, people in the filling crowd yelled out things to him. “PURPLE!,” one person yells out, as Andrew runs from one side of the stage back to the canvas. After one work of art was finished, he’d run back for another one, until just before showtime he finished up the third one, which looked like a rainbow melding into a figure.
Car Seat Headrest kicked off their set with each member joining in on a long intro for “Fill In The Blank” with Will in orange jacket and a mask that flashed and morphed as he danced along to the brilliant (literally) light show behind the stage. This was a huge leap from the already amazing stage performance they had put on in the past.
Taking a break, Will addressed the absence of Bartees Strange, and announcing that though his voice was strained, “We want to get as many songs as we can out tonight… I’ve done a lot of shows in Virginia with just a chair and a guitar, so we’re going back in time for a bit after doing a few more traditional numbers.” The band then got the crowd up and moving, going through favorites like the punk groove of “Hollywood” and one of my favorites from Twin Fantasy, “Bodys,” switching up to a couple of tunes sung by Ethan from his project, Toy Bastard.
Watch the official music video for “Hollywood” by Car Seat Headrest on YouTube:
So after several several songs as Will’s alter ego, Trait, the band took a short break and returned to the stage with Will on guitar (sans mask) and seated to play a few slower tunes. It was a homecoming of sorts, as Toledo called DC his hometown, having been raised in suburban Virginia and starting his musical career, as he said, sitting with a guitar playing songs.
After a few slower tunes, it was back to the the cresting favorite “Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales” with everyone up and singing along. And that energy moved through the crowd in waves with Will dancing around and everyone joining in. An incredible ride through to the end.
Car Seat Headrest continues their tour through the summer. Visit their website for more details.
Fill in the Blank
Hymn – Remix
1937 State Park
Snake Song (Toy Bastard)
High to Death
Sober to Death
Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales
It’s My Child (I’ll Do What I Like) (Toy Bastard)
Deadlines (Hostile) / Deadlines (Thoughtful)
Here are more photos of Car Seat Headrest performing at The Anthem on Saturday, April 2, 2022. All photos copyright and courtesy of David LaMason.