Car Seat Headrest, despite the foul interference of The Cars (Not a play on words - The band ruined the CD/LP release of Teens of Denial last week over an unauthorized partial cover of “Just What I needed”), have dropped what will likely be universally regarded as one of the best albums of 2016, if not recent years. I gleefully reviewed it for Under The Radar (current Issue #57) and have been simultaneously listening to/raving about it ever since. So, I made the trip from New York to see Will Toledo with band at Underground Arts in Philadelphia, a city that I’ve just begun to adore. With an album of songs that sound so great recorded, I wondered would the live show bubble above it, or fall a little flat?
I was hanging with the young adults whose experiences live right in the pages of Toledo’s halting approaches to adulthood, told in an oxymoronic anxious-nonchalance. Even still, you never know how a band that has really only just begun playing a new album live will be received by those not yet familiar with any of its tunes. Would they be casually digging the music while shuffling in place, thinking they could be just as happy watching the second half of the Warriors-Thunder game across the street? Judging by that closed-eyed-head-bobbling indicative of surrender to the sound, and the happy-face head-nodding in response to the question “Do you want another tall boy?” there were no thoughts of anything above the basement cavern of the grungily intimate venue in Industrial West Philly on Sunday night.
Will and friends played like it was just another jam session they were getting high from, which is not to suggest, as it sounds, that they were going through an ordinary routine. Oh no - because with this bunch you feel like a daily rehearsal is played just as articulately and with just as much attention to detail as any other time they get behind their instruments; They love music, love to play it and it shows. Toledo comes across as a true student of the craft of making rock songs. He plays and sings with the assured grace of an old pro, though he is just 23. After this show, I’m comfortable with handing him the map and letting him take point en route to the next generation, doing it all with a tip of the cap to generations just past.
The way he and the band artfully crescendo to blasting chorus shelves that shake your chest cavity and then on precision point, drop back down to a metered verse floor of just bass and voice is the kind of nuance that separates good bands from bands that get remembered in years to come. The way he winds acoustically, and patiently, up to the beginning of the recorded version of a song. The way eleven minute numbers are utterly engaging from start to finish..It’s all the mark of something special.
“Just to let you know guys..” confessed Toledo, “We came from playing New York City last night...and we’re playing much better for you guys.” I cheered whole-heartedly and definitely for the first time in my life, I was proud to be a part of something that Philadelphia had over my hometown. Just when there was no way the show could have possibly gotten any better, Toledo and his wily rascals - true to form - slipped in a ridiculously awesome cover of “Paranoid Android” to wrap things up. I don’t think Thom Yorke would have minded.