Secret Meeting score: 90
by Chris Hatch
Car Seat Headrest returned to Manchester this week for the third time in two years, for what was possibly their best performance in the city yet.
Bolstered by help from support band, Naked Giants, they entered the stage as a seven-piece to an eagerly expectant crowd, and slowly sunk into set-opener Cosmic Hero – a song suite with its chorus of ‘I will get to heaven, you won’t get to heaven’ perfectly back-dropped by the stained glass windows and pipe organ of the Albert Hall – a former Wesleyan Church.
Second track, Bodys (taken from this year’s wonderful, Twin Fantasy LP), saw both the band and crowd loosen up. Usually introverted, Will Toledo mimicked the song’s lyric – ‘dancing all of the dances’ – as the crowd belted back the purposely-misspoken refrain ‘those are you got some nice shoulders’ – doing their level best to match Toledo’s moves.
Their most successful hit, Fill In The Blank, followed next, with its opening quasi-funk riff markedly different to the album version. As a side note, this playing around with songs and their styles is a staple of Car Seat Headrest’s sound, both live and on record, but it was at this point of the night that it became apparent just how tight the band were – any initial fears that the seven-piece would descend into a wall of sound were quashed. With laser-like precision, the band rattled through, only stopping for a glorious pause in the middle of the song that brought the audience into a near frenzy.
Drugs With Friends, and Cute Thing followed next – the former sparking a mass singalong, and showing off how surprisingly strong Toledo’s voice is. The ode to Alfred Hitchcock/mental health/alcoholism, Sober To Death, morphed brilliantly into a cover of Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s Powderfinger – with the ever-likeable Ethan Ives taking lead vocals and looking every bit like he’d been transported there from a mid-seventies rock band.
Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales and Destroyed By Hippie Powers were a duo of songs which threatened to blow the chapel roof clean off the Albert Hall. The former starting off with a muzak-style keyboard part and falsetto vocals before mutating into a juggernaut of guitars and yet another mass singalong; the latter saw a percussionist going rogue and jumping maniacally around the stage and crowd before pulling an audience member up to take his place. This run of songs confirming that this is a group who are absolutely on top of their game. For all that Car Seat Headrest write about (depression, anxiety, alcoholism, addiction), they also acknowledge that for better or worse, all most people want to do is go out and have a good time, and it’s that ethos that shines through tonight- with the audience responding in style.
The ten minute plus long set-closer, Beach Life-In-Death, was an absolute masterpiece, before the band arrived back on stage for a single song encore – a version of Something Soon that was augmented by snippets of Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ song – Tell Me When My Light Turns Green. Again demonstrating that Toledo isn’t precious about his songs, or scared to play around with their arrangements.
As the walls dripped with sweat and the steam rose from an exhausted crowd, an old quote from an unlikely source (Ozzy Osbourne!) sprang to mind: “When people go to see a rock band they want to have their heart ripped out and handed back to them in a better condition” – I’m sure most will agree that Car Seat Headrest had done just that.