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. 

The Flaming Lips at Mission Ballroom

By Emily Faulks

I remember being at home during the Fall 2020 quarantine period and discovering The Flaming Lips’ Pitchfork documentary of their 1999 album The Soft Bulletin. I did not know them outside of some of their classic songs like “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1” and “She Don’t Use Jelly,” that were conceptually and aesthetically different from this album- this was something special. I hung onto every song on the album for dear life, as its messages of grief and existential dread felt particularly salient during the pandemic. Now that COVID’s presence seems more of a backdrop to “normal” life, I have moved through the Flaming Lips discography to compliment the laughter and joy that has flowed back into my day. The Flaming Lips concert, even with an emotionally varied setlist, captured the loving relationship between the band and their fans- we all celebrated life and celebrated music.

It has been a long time since I have been to a concert alone in Denver, but it seemed fitting as I alone traveled through the stages of grieving with The Soft Bulletin as my guide. I entered while the opener, Particle Kid, started their set. The lead singer, Micah, trotted around stage with a long black cape and cried out with a Kurt Cobain-ish rasp. I couldn’t help but imagine myself being at a reincarnated Nirvana concert until I heard the psychedelic synthesizers and reverb in the guitars drill into hypnotic freestyles that would last for several minutes. The most intriguing part of the set felt more like a performance art piece, something like a “Happening” piece in the 50’s where the last song turned into another long jam after people backstage tossed confetti over Micah’s head in celebration of his birthday while he continued to scream “LIFE- LIFE…” I thought I was witnessing a manifestation of a quarter-life crisis as the drums and guitar patterns started to deteriorate into amorphic static. Micah crawled around the stage continuing to repeat this word for several minutes, playing with the tone and frequency of his voice behind the blaring instruments. The crowd also moved through waves of discomfort and awe watching the performance. It seemed like his mic eventually got cut off, and the band did a short sign off before getting off stage. The opener got me more excited as Particle Kid was clearly a group of performers that revered the interactive nature of The Flaming Lips’ concerts.

After standing around for some time, the lead singer of TFL, Wayne Coyne, walked around the stage getting all the props and goodies for the fans prepared for the show. Finally, the whole band came onstage in the dark, while Wayne stepped in the spotlight with a large robotic red bird. He opened the show by talking about how in previous tours they used to have a different bird that Wayne would pretend to fly around the stage in tandem with the bird noises from “My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion.” Unfortunately, long story short, the original bird broke but now they have this new bird that ACTUALLY flies. Wayne started the set by throwing the bird up to the sky and grabbing a spotlight to cast a magical beam up while the bird fluttered around before landing in front of the mic. Everyone was singing along, even if they did not know the “bird song” (like myself) from the brilliantly animated lyrics on the fluorescent panel of lights.

It was not uncommon for Wayne to stop singing through the set and encourage everyone to scream and dance for the sake of spreading love for each other and for having live shows again. “This could be the last concert ever, for all we know,” Wayne said once, “so we might as well make it the best fucking concert ever!”  And that it was. After the first song, the tech crew came onstage with a leaf blower and started to fill a clear plastic ball with air, while Wayne stepped inside the orb. This would be his temporary home, he would rock back and forth and roll around while singing in his perfect, inhuman voice. I was not expecting him to sound exactly like his recorded songs because of age and production edits, but it was so uncanny seeing him and hearing him the same as I would imagine.

The first time he stepped out of his clear ball was to move to a different inflatable structure: the infamous pink robot. Standing at about 20 feet tall, this massive giant danced with air to “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1” with Wayne playing hide-and-seek under its legs. The whole concert seemed like a return to childhood; we were encouraged to move freely and inspire each other to be fully immersed in the music. A few songs later another massive inflatable structure, a rainbow, arched over most of the large stage with Wayne in his ball singing underneath. Streams of confetti would fly out from the stage or from Wayne’s confetti cannons. Halfway through, the whole band played happy birthday to Particle Kids, Micah, and Wayne praised the band for their passionate opening set. Throughout the show, Wayne exuded the most positive energy both through his singing and his actions. In the jam section of “Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell,” Wayne picked up a spotlight attached to a cord and lassoed it manically around, inciting the audience into a dance frenzy. A few songs later, a medical team had to go into the audience and Wayne stopped the show to make sure everyone was safe.

After the band finished playing some of their classic songs like “Do You Realize??” and “She  Don’t Use Jelly,” They finished their set with my favorite song: “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate.” I screamed in surprise because it is such a sad song- there was no way, I thought, that they would play that! But it is also one of the most beautiful songs ever. Wayne played “Waitin’ For a Superman” earlier in the show, another song from The Soft Bulletin, prefacing that it was a sad song but we would all create a supportive environment. No such warning was given for this song, but I think it was because he knew we would be ready. I felt the love from the people around me and from the band as they blended their guitars with surreal ease. In a lot of ways, the only verse from “Feeling Yourself Disintegrate” encapsulated the message from the show: “Love in our life is just too valuable/ Oh, to feel for even a second without it/ But life without death is just impossible/Oh, to realize something is ending within us.” Wayne and the rest of TFL underscored throughout the show, especially in the wake of COVID, that our bodies are impermanent, but love is infinite; “if you give someone love you will receive it thirty fold back,” Wayne preached between the song. The band went off briefly and then played four more songs for their encore, ending with “All We Have Is Now” and the classic hit from The Soft Bulletin  “Race for the Prize,” again, highlighting their message of love and human mortality. The show was a cathartic experience for me as well as insightful. With prosaic musings similar to that of Dead & Company’s Bob Weir, Wayne opened up with personal stories and feelings that made me feel like I knew him a little better.

I hope that The Flaming Lips return to Denver sometime in the future, but Wayne left the set with a big question mark over the prospect of another tour. Whatever happens, we both left knowing that this show touched the lives of so many fans. I walked out of the venue with exceeded expectations and a long drive ahead.