Calling Car Seat Headrest’s meteoric rise feels unfair in two ways. First, the band—which for most of its existence was frontman Will Toledo’s solo project—self-released numerous albums previous to this year’s smash hit Teens of Denial. Toledo spent the better part of the last decade recording material by himself and releasing it through Bandcamp, and he built up a loyal, if not sizable, following. So it’s not as if the band burst on to the scene out of nowhere. There’s an impressive body of work that clearly delineates the progress from bedroom project to national touring act.
Second, the word meteoric might not go far enough in describing just how quickly a spark became an inferno. In October, Car Seat Headrest released Teens of Style, an album featuring remixes of previously recorded tracks. Teens of Style—while an improvement and a fine album in its own right—was not groundbreaking, though in hindsight it did provide a glimpse of what was to come. Touring behind that release, Car Seat Headrest (complete with a newly formed lineup that would eventually provide the transition from Toledo solo project to full-fledged band) made a stop in Cambridge last November. Not at The Sinclair, or even The Middle East, but rather at The Lizard Lounge, the jazzy, cozy club with a capacity of just 105 that somehow feels smokey despite the longstanding indoor smoking ban in the city.
And now, just 10 months later, Car Seat Headrest is coming back to Cambridge. Only this time they’ll play a packed-to-the-brim Sinclair, touring behind an album that will surely top many year-end best-of lists. Fresh off an appearance on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show, the band has also attracted some other famous fans. None other than Channing Tatum, Daniel Craig and Adam Driver attended the band’s set last week in Atlanta. When James Bond and Darth Vader’s grandson are at your gig, you’ve made it.
Daniel Craig, Channing Tatum, and Adam Driver are currently 50 feet away, dancing like fools to @carseatheadrest and I can’t stop laughing.
— My Chemical Bromance (@DJBrogero) September 9, 2016
Now that you know the how, you need to know the why. Toledo and co. make a brand of indie rock that feels actually, well, indie. Their music is rooted in the pillars of the genre, bands like R.E.M., the Replacements and Pavement. The songs reflect the innermost musings of an introspective, anxious young man while also attempting to cast off that doubt and worry with straight-up rocks riffs that bury their way into your brain and beg to have their choruses sung in unison.
And Toledo isn’t afraid to take seemingly straightforward concepts and mold them in uncommon ways. Take “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales,” a 6-plus minute track—ostensibly about the ills of of driving while intoxicated—that swerves from its lane to serve as a meditation on humanity’s inability to genuinely connect. Or “(Joe Gets Kicked Out of School For Using) Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn’t a Problem),” which finds not creative inspiration in psychedelic drugs but only an anxiety attack. Both of these songs take classic rock tropes—booze and drugs—and flip them on their heads to reveal some harsh truths—like the fact that maybe there’s more substance to rock and roll than substances. If that sounds like a bummer, don’t worry; both of those songs also come loaded with melodies and choruses that you won’t be able to get out of your head for days. This band is 2016’s rock band: socially conscious, self-aware and still down to let a solo or two fly.
This Saturday at The Sinclair, know that while they’ve seemingly come out of nowhere, Car Seat Headrest was a long time in the making. And the next time they’re in town on their meteoric rise (where next—the House of Blues?) get those tickets early.