Car Seat Headrest blends old and new at the Royale

Will Toledo performing with Car Seat Headrest at 100 Club in London, England in June 2016 via Wikipedia
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Commercial success seems to be the ultimate fork in the road for any artist or band that has amassed a sizable cult following. After years of self-releasing projects on streaming site Bandcamp, lead singer of Car Seat Headrest Will Toledo got his big break, signing to Matador Records in 2015.

His next big break came only a year later, when the acclaim for his band’s album “Teens of Denial” (2016) put Car Seat Headrest, and its newly recruited band members, on the national radar as one of the most compelling indie lo-fi outfits in recent memory.

It was at this point that Car Seat Headrest officially reached that fork. With a small taste of commercial success, would Toledo continue to evolve to fit the current trends of music in an effort to appeal to a broader audience, or would he stay true to the guy who crafted beautiful lo-fi tunes as an undergraduate at the College of William and Mary?

With the release of “Twin Fantasy (Face to Face),” a re-recording of the original “Twin Fantasy” (2011), Toledo and company manage to do both. The album, a complete reworking of the earlier internet cult classic, beautifully fleshes out arguably the most important record of Toledo’s early career. It reached No. 92 on the Billboard 200, the band’s highest peak on the chart to date.

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The band has taken this success on a world tour. And last Thursday night, the band, opened by a fun new rock outfit by the name of Naked Giants, took the tour to Boston, performing at the Royale.

The band didn’t open their show with a track from one of their two recent albums, though. It wasn’t an older cut either. After a brief introduction featuring a snippet from the beginning of “The Ending of Dramamine” (2014), a song from the unreleased “How to Leave Town,” Car Seat Headrest began its night by covering the late Lou Reed’s “Waves of Fear” (1982).

It wouldn’t be the only time the band brought in outside material. They experimented with blending their own songs with covers with very positive results — “Sober to Death,” one of the favorites of “Twin Fantasy,” meshed seamlessly with the classic Neil Young track “Powderfinger” (1979). Their final jam of the night (before the encore, of course) was a pairing of their own “Something Soon” (2015) and Dexys Midnight Runners’ “Tell Me When My Light Turns Green” (1980).

Kicking back to the beginning, Car Seat Headrest started off strong after the opening cover, playing another beloved “Twin Fantasy” track, “Bodys.” With the crowd already pleased, Toledo indulged them more with the catchy “Teens of Denial” single “Fill in the Blank” (2016).

While the evening’s setlist was rather short — 11 songs in total, not accounting for some songs and covers meshing into one — it was the breadth of these performances that truly made the night for Car Seat Headrest. Toledo’s lovely vocals were in true form throughout the show, and his dry yet witty banter could be expected after nearly every song. The instrumental offerings during the set were both passionate and technically skilled.

The song selection was masterfully crafted as well. Car Seat Headrest seems to have struck a balance between Toledo’s past albums and their current and future work under a label, and the band brought out the best in both of those eras to the show Thursday night. The stellar “Teens of Denial” track “Drugs with Friends” (2016) coincided perfectly with the earlier yet newly remastered “Cute Thing” on a back-to-back run.

The highlight of the evening, though, was the masterpiece from “Teens of Denial”, “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” (2016). The sold-out Royale crowd echoed every single note, affirming an incredible live performance of the already classic track. By the time the song was replaced with the fellow “Teens of Denial” cut “Destroyed by Hippie Powers” (2016), the crowd was warmed up and ready to mosh. There was even a crowd surfing attempt, much to the dismay of security.

That energy carried through to the aforementioned Dexys Midnight Runners mashup, and didn’t end when the band left the stage. Chants of “one more song” roared throughout the venue, and it didn’t take long for the band to head back out.

The “one more song” wound up being “Beach Life-In-Death,” a 12-minute track from the original “Twin Fantasy” that became a 13-minute track on the reprised version. With a few distinct stylistic changes throughout the massively long cut, it was essentially an encore of three songs in one.

The set was short but sweet, and proved once again that despite Toledo’s recent rise into indie stardom, he welcomes his fans old and new into this next chapter of Car Seat Headrest. While “Teens of Denial” was a full 70 minutes of new studio material, “Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)” showed that Toledo won’t be quick to forget the days of Bandcamp. The “Twin Fantasy” tour was just a beautiful reiteration.

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While "Teens of Denial" was a full 70 minutes of new studio material, "Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)" showed that Toledo won't be quick to forget the days of Bandcamp. The "Twin Fantasy" tour was a beautiful reiteration of this fact.

4.5 stars
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