Car Seat Headrest Live in Denver

“What happened to that chubby little kid, who smiled so much and loved the beach boys?”

Car Seat Headrest songwriter Will Toledo screams this on stage with his post-pubescent voice cracks fragmenting through the crowd.

“What happened is I killed that fucker and I took his name, and I got new glasses”

The audience collectively belts this “Destroyed by Hippie Powers” line as if it is one of the universal truths of the online age. And to this group of people, it may as well be.

So what the hell happened to the music kids? I’d imagine twenty-five years ago, the Car Seat Headrest fanbase’s past-adjacents would have been scoffing at hair-metal during a Pavement concert, or wearing a dirty pair of jeans at a Yo La Tengo show. The internet happened, Bandcamp happened, and the ability to record music in a shitty car on a shitty computer happened.

Now we go to a real-life self-loathing echo chamber and scream for Will Toledo: he has tights on with comically small jorts over them. He has a mask on with digital LED lights that blink every few seconds. His angst remains at the level of Paul Dano in Little Miss Sunshine. I will defend him with dusty buttons on my keyboard in online spaces until the day I die. 

Photos by Ethan Gouldie
Photos by Ethan Gouldie

This band knows how to put on a show for the sweaty cesspool of incredible fans they have built over the last decade. Car Seat Headrest entered their green lighting on stage to look at an artist’s palette of hair colors in the crowd. We dance, we dance to lyrics like “Sex-havers, stop being so mean” and “The other night I cried while thinking of having sex with you.” It’s not a surprise that my uncle hates his band.

It’s also no wonder that this generation of kids would take solace in the musing of a man that sings about his hatred of social interaction, being sober, and being high. On the internet, we read anonymous people who type about their agony with Reddit ink. This tolerance – even open-armed acceptance – of self-loathing rightfully makes its way into the music of a skinny teenager with glasses and lots of time on his hands: Will Toledo. Soon after, his music makes its way onto thousands of other kids’ computers, many of whom also have a dislike for their bodies and a dislike for conversations with strangers. Now, these listeners are here at the Ogden Theater: It’s a community of online folk that are finally offline, and it’s a beautiful sight. 

Andrew Katz beats on his drums, he came prepared with a white tee shirt that says “MASK” and an 80’s style white headband on. The fan-favorite “Fill in the Blank” riles the crowd up with its fast, angular guitar; a large majority of the audience yells every line. The heavy baseline in “It’s Only Sex” keeps the crowd dancing as Toledo moves his body around like a stick-figure Elvis that cannot bend his joints. His voice carries as much raw emotion as it did back in 2011 when he was recording demos in his car. Guitarist Ethan Ives threw in some wild licks to propel the angst of Toledo not just to the back of the theater – but even our nomad friends in the rocky mountains fifty miles away felt the presence of some sort of sonic virginity. 

By the time the dance-demanding song “Bodys” came on, the audience turned into a wave pool, up and down and up and down. It’s a song I’ve always wanted to see live; with a subject of moving our bodies around so we can “forget that we forgot how to talk,” even the shyest people’s shells cracked, allowing them to dance and fling their limbs around. After this, sentimentality was at a high during the prized “Sober to Death.” A slower variation of this work of art made for a moment of singing along that is difficult to forget. Guitarist, Ethan Ives, even performed the noisy “It’s my Child (I’ll do what I like)” from his side project Toy Bastard, and the audience ate up the curly-haired, suburban resentment. 

The band closed off with the monster 11-minute opus “Beach life-in-death,” an emotional experience for anyone who has connected with the vulnerable lyrics. The encore was an extended version of “Deadlines” – Toledo takes the time to thank and introduce his spotlit bandmates during an extended guitar solo; It was clear to see that these four are best friends. The slacker ethos of 90’s indie rock remains, but Will Toledo sings emotional lyrics like he is reading from a non-refundable receipt that lists all the stuff we wish we could return after puberty. Even at 29 years old – far past his teenage Bandcamp days – Toledo is theatrical and still in his performing prime. 

Car Seat Headrest’s music is what sitting in your car to waste time during a party is like. Car Seat Headrest’s music is what being at a lunch table with absolutely nothing to add to the conversation is like. Essentially, Car Seat Headrest’s music feels like being as far away from the present as possible. However, looking around at this concert, it was clear to see that the audience members were present in the moment, enjoying themselves. The equation makes sense now:

Pessimistic people + pessimistic music = propelling a group of hormone-filled introverts to enjoy a moment. 

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