Holy Toledo! Car Seat Headrest Crushes Red Bull’s 30 Days In LA [REVIEW+PHOTOS] REVIEW+PHOTOS: Car Seat Headrest, Naked Giants & Los Angeles Police Department @ Teragram Ballroom 11/13/16
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You’ve got to feel at least a little sorry for Red Bull. The observance of the programming of their annual 30 Days In LA series – tastefully curated and thoughtfully booked as ever – ought to be an opportunity for celebration. Then November 8th happened, and suddenly a bunch of their shows are the first things many in the audience have felt any obligation to enjoy in days; there were definitely multiple moments in the Lyft on my way out to the Teragram Ballroom where I felt a little perverse for tearing myself away from the internet. It’s a cultural climate which seems somewhat problematic for brand activations.
And yet the Teragram Ballroom filled up in a hurry, with a good-sized audience present for first openers Los Angeles Police Department and a packed house by the time Naked Giants left the stage. Of the two bands, I greatly preferred Los Angeles Police Department (a name I am convinced the band chose in order to make any critic writing anything about them feel weird); give me smart, Boces-era Mercury Rev-sounding psyche-pop over unrelenting, albeit thoroughly competent, garage rock any day. Bands like these are always my favorite part of 30 Days In LA; I always end up catching some up-and-coming band absolutely knock it out of the park, and it’s always a highlight.
I don’t mean to give Naked Giants the short shrift here – if anything, their songs sounded authentically good; I probably just wasn’t in the right place for surging, stomping rock mentally, presumably because I am an Actual Old Person. I can definitely affirm that they put on one hell of a show; and absolutely nobody in attendance would claim otherwise after watching their drummer mug and flail so magnificently (at one point even breaking out James Brown’s old leave-and-return bit).
Of course, all those people were really there for Car Seat Headrest, and Will Toledo did not disappoint. I don’t want to act like a peerless expert on all things Car Seat Headrest; like many (if not most) folks, I came to them earlier this year through the excellent Teens Of Denial LP but still haven’t set aside the time to dig through their older albums. I can, however, say one thing conclusively: if you like Teens Of Denial, do not miss Car Seat Headrest on this tour because everything off that album that they play sounds like a million bucks. It’s easy to imagine the band getting lost in the sprawl of epics like “Vincent” or “Cosmic Hero” when playing live, but they sure don’t; if anything, they were probably my favorite songs the band played that night (although I will always have a lot of love for “Fill In The Blank”).
And then there are the covers. Car Seat Headrest has apparently been covering David Bowie’s “Five Years” during the encore of their shows for a while, but had only started covering “Field Commander Cohen” in tribute to Leonard Cohen’s passing a few days earlier. Perhaps the most remarkable development of the night was seeing how Bowie & Cohen refracted the band’s originals – the precision of Toledo’s lyrics, the sweeping grandeur of the arrangements, the preternatural gift for melody.
Lesser bands use cover songs to distract you from the fact that they have no actual songs or to tacitly earn cred among members of their audience; Car Seat Headrest uses cover songs to force you to remember how terrible 2016 is, and even though they’re covering Bowie & Cohen their own songs steal the show. I think that’s worth mentioning.
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