Indie-rock troop Car Seat Headrest, led by singer-songwriter Will Toledo, played at Rams Head Live on Feb. 17 as they continued the second North American leg of their tour celebrating the re-release of their 2011 classic, Twin Fantasy. As an avid music fan, to say I had never been to a concert in my life was near blasphemy. So when I saw my favorite band coming to Baltimore on the day before my 20th birthday, I had no choice but to book some tickets.
As I entered the venue with my friend, I was greeted by a sea of white teenagers and young adults clearly trying to counter their nerdiness and awkwardness with a 2014 hipster aesthetic. It was the kind of crowd that only Car Seat Headrest’s anxious yet angsty indie style could attract. They had already self-segregated into a group pressed against the front barrier preparing to mosh, and a field of more reserved fans sparsely populating the back and upper levels as they tried to maximize the distance between themselves and any other potential human contact. Naturally, I joined the second group and made my way up to the upper level
The show kicked off at exactly 8pm as the opener, Naked Giants, took the stage. The Seattle-based garage-rock/punk trio came on to stage one-by-one, each playing a musical loop until they had all come on stage, subsequently launching into their first song. The show started as any good show should, with a drunken fan shouting “I DRANK 9 BEERS WITH OF MONTREAL” at the band. Bassist and vocalist Gianni Aiello took the heckle in stride, telling the fan “that’s awesome”, and shortly thereafter challenging him to a drink-for-drink chug.
They weren’t going to take themselves too seriously, and this was clear when about halfway through their performance, guitarist and vocalist Grant Mullen just decided to lay down for a few minutes on stage, as he continued his attempts to take the paint off of his guitar. The highlight of their performance, however, had to be drummer Henry LaVelle. The passion he played with was visible, and I mean that literally. Every couple of minutes you could spot a shard of wood fly across the stage as he destroyed drumstick after drumstick.
The energy Naked Giants brang lingered after their performance, hanging in the air as the crowd waited anxiously for the headliner of the night. After 40 minutes, that anxiety turned into excitement as the overhead lights dimmed and the silhouettes of Car Seat Headrest took their positions against a backdrop of blue floodlights. While it had already been spoiled for me, the band started off their performance with an unreleased, tour-exclusive song, “Can’t Cool Me Down.” This new track took a more electronic slant to their traditional style with the addition of an 80’s-esque keyboard, while maintaining the string and vocal styles that define the band.
I was immediately surprised by the intricate lighting schemes that had been put together for the show. As the band had performed a much larger show at Madison Square Garden just the night before, I was expecting a much more laid back atmosphere and simple show than their typical performances. However, they had clearly spent the time to maximize the use of Rams Head’s unique lighting and effects systems. The energy of the set rose alongside the band’s transition to their higher energy tracks, “Bodys” and “Cute Thing.” At times, it looked as if I had missed Car Seat Headrest and stumbled into some high-budget EDM concert.
As the concert progressed into the meat of the show, the band opted for some of their older, more laid back tracks. It was a great surprise to see the band include their older songs. While Twin Fantasy is almost universally recognized as the band’s magnum opus, they have a rich discography of 12 more self-produced and studio albums. In between performances of “Maud Gone” and “America (Never Been),” lead singer Will Toledo included guitarist and backup vocalist Ethan Ives in an interesting mashup of their track, “Sober to Death,” with Neil Young’s “Powderfinger.”
To finish off the show, the band hit their highpoint of the night with their performance of “Destroyed by Hippie Powers.” A high-energy song with a catchy chorus and call-and-response section, this track was made to be listened to live. It was made even better when Toledo invited a fan on stage to play the cowbell. With the last explosive light show finished and every fan in chanting “one more song,” the band made their first exit of the night. After five minutes, they made their way back on stage for what I assume to be a planned encore. For their actual last song of the night, Toledo led the band through “Beach Life-In-Death,” a 16 minute ballad revolving around Toledo’s high school boyfriend. Satiated with one encore, the crowd settled for an applause so long, anyone’s hands would’ve have gone numb.
Being my first concert, it wouldn’t mean much to say it was my favorite. However, I left nearly deaf from the noise, blind from the lights, and mute from singing. I can’t call that anything but a roaring success.