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Car Seat Headrest, Camden Roundhouse, London

  • Published in Live

On a May evening at the Camden Roundhouse, Car Seat Headrest a.k.a. Will Toledo, everyone’s favourite overwrought, lower-case tweeting indie-darling, walks onstage with six other musicians - significant because it’s a far cry from a few years ago when he was playing all the instruments himself and uploading his albums to Bandcamp. Signing to Matador in 2016 has significantly beefed up Toledo’s sound (predominantly because his albums are no longer recorded on a Macbook), and along with that - his live performances. The set starts with a cover of Lou Reed’s ‘Waves of Fear’, droning notes building to a crescendo before the band launch into quite possibly the best gig opener since, er, ‘Fill in the Blank’ - Twin Fantasy’s ‘Bodys’.

Car Seat Headrest recently released a re-recorded version of Twin Fantasy, the album Toledo “Didn’t know how to finish” first time around when he uploaded it back in 2011. The previous version was a multifaceted, bedroom heartbreak record, but in re-recording it, that sweet Matador money has unsurprisingly made for a stronger, more urgent modern classic. New versions of tracks are mostly exactly the same, perhaps with a couple of lyrical references updated (on ‘Cute Thing’ - “I want a voice like Dan Bejar” is now “I want a voice like Frank Ocean’s” [fine] and “I want a stage presence like John Entwistle” is now “I want a stage presence like James Brown” [weird choice]). After ‘Bodys’ the band start bashing out the big ones from the two preceding albums, Teens of Style and Teens of Denial - ‘Fill In the Blanks’, ‘Hippie Powers’, ‘Drugs With Friends’ - it’s almost a greatest hits set, testament to the sheer volume of chorus-heavy bangers in Toledo’s back catalogue. As ‘Cute Thing’ comes to a barnstorming end, the band immediately launch into a Talking Heads cover (a CSH live staple) - Remain in Light’s ‘Crosseyed and Painless’. Skittering guitar and bass loop over backbeat drums, and Toledo bounces around the stage, eyes closed and singing to the ceiling.

Talking Heads is followed by pints-in-the-air singalong, ‘Drunk Drivers’ (complete with cowbell and maracas courtesy of support band Naked Giants) and closing with latest single, ‘Nervous Young Inhumans’. The band stalk off to thunderous applause before coming back 5 minutes later for an encore of some of Twin Fantasy’s quieter numbers, before following with twelve minute epic, ‘Beach Life in Death’, a song written seven years previous. In the past Toledo has referred to ‘Beach Life’, which is obviously one of the more personal songs (from a man whose stock-in-trade is personal songs) as the “albatross around his neck” (the song’s title is also a reference to The Ancient Mariner). By re-recording the album, in his new persona as one of his generation’s most adored alternative songwriters, perhaps Toledo has managed to slough off the albatross from his neck. He certainly can hold a crowd down. 


BBC Radio 6music Festival 2017, Various Venues, Glasgow - Day 2

  • Published in Live

The sun is blinding today in Glasgow. Apollo shines his light on the 6music Festival. The blessing of the gods follows us to the Barrowland ballroom. The Barras Market is in full swing and American singer Haley is talking to us after lunch. The Minnesota based singer plays Saint Luke's around the corner tonight with Sacred Paws, The Lemon Twigs and Car Seat Headrest. We'll be at Barrowlands too for Bonobo, Thundercat, Loyle Carner and Songhoy Blues.

And that's where we'll start tonight's adventure, with Loyle Carner it the main room. Security is tight here and given recent events, we'll just have to tolerate it. The young English lad performs vocal gymnastics over the mellow but effective backing of his DJ. The bass makes the jelly in our eyeballs tremble. Carner lived in Glasgow when he was younger, he even owns a kilt.

His autobiographical lyrics are a million miles from the sparkle and bling of some of his American counterparts; particularly when he's dressed in slacks and a woolly jumper. He carries a towel like Vegas-era Elvis. From up front at the barrier, he’s an impressive performer too. I don't see much hip-hop but I could be converted.

Over to Saint Luke's for Sacred Paws and this place makes a great first impression. You come around the corner from Barrowlands and there it is; a standalone deconsecrated church with gothic ornamentation. Inside, the stage has been expanded to accommodate the BBC logistics. The drum riser sits at the foot of a set of organ pipes and between two stained glass windows, each about five metres tall.

The start is delayed and music plays over the PA. Sleeper’s ‘Inbetweener’ followed by REM’s ‘Don't Go Back To Rockville’, one could put up with this. Eventually Liz Kershaw appears to introduce the band. They play danceable music with tight harmonies that would make The Bee Gees sit up and take notice. The guitars and drums unleash rhythms that are somewhere between math rock, Bloc Party and Paul Simon's Graceland. There are moments of early Vampire Weekend punkiness blended with tribal beats and glimpses of The Raincoats. They’ve a debut album coming out and from this display it will be well worth a listen.

Barrowlands has filled up rightly for Californian bassist Thundercat whose latest solo album has taken the world by storm. He's known for his signature six string bass, 50% more than the average, and for his work with acts as diverse as Suicidal Tendencies and Kendrick Lamar. It's too jazzy and self-conscious for my liking. You'll pass fifty similar acts at Glastonbury without pausing for too long. Too much of it sounds like the satirical “Jazz Club” from ‘90s sketch programme The Fast Show.

So with that, it's back to Saint Luke's for Haley. The sun has set so the huge neon Barrowlands sign has been turned on. It's quite a sight. Saint Luke's is lit up in the festival livery too. We spoke to Haley earlier today. This is the start of a European tour for her and she's a big fan of Car Seat Headrest who play this stage later tonight. She's played NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert and Later...With Jools Holland so the 6music Festival will be familiar territory.

It’s difficult to categorise her music. She's creatively restless and mercurial. The set opens with a torch song sung to a drum machine and sweeping guitars while the second is up-tempo rock in the vein of her other band Gramma’s Boyfriend. She's working on the third album of that band as well as a collection of short stories, and that’s on top of her solo stuff. You can read that interview here later in the week.

Described as desert blues Mali's Songhoy Blues are going down a storm in Barrowlands. They've a heavy dub reggae influence making them reminiscent of The Clash. They have fans in the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Strokes and it's obvious why. There are a lot of shared influences. Lead singer Aliou Toure dances hypnotically between verses, eliciting uproarious cheering from the audience. Three songs in they are joined by a brass section for a song from their new album. The rolling bass and the horns make it sound like Level 42 with Songhai lyrics. They sing in English too and Toure straps on a Les Paul for an old favourite. They've a following here in Glasgow and it gets a massive reception.

Across the way in Saint Luke's The Lemon Twigs are having an extensive warm up before starting their set. The New York four piece are suffering technical difficulties but manage to overcome them and deliver some infectious harmonies. They mix rock ‘n’ roll, doo wop, and musical theatre. There are moments when it is hard to believe that there are only four of them on stage. Jim Steinman could use these guys for Bat Out Of Hell 4, provided the songs were up to scratch. There's a touch of Freddie Mercury to it too.

Barrowlands is eagerly awaiting tonight's headliner. Bonobo's sixth album, Migration, came out in January. He's someone who has passed me by over the years so I'll be interested to see if he can win over a sceptic, as Future Islands did last night. Over a steady drone the band enter the fray one at a time over the course of several minutes, each adding their own contribution to the cacophony. The six players assemble in a semi-circle at the front of the stage, facing the audience.

After five minutes, there is a break and they begin the next song but there is too little happening in the tunes to hold the interest. This is headphone music being played in a cavernous room. Guest vocalist Szjerdene helps add some variety and interest but it just doesn't work in this environment. It's a pity to end the day in disappointment but with Loyle Carner, Songhoy Blues, Haley, Sacred Paws and The Lemon Twigs, this has still been a good day for music.

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