Friday, November 09, 2018

Bonfire Night bangers


When Naked Giants guitarist/vocalist Grant Mullen described his band's debut album SLUFF in an interview as "a smorgasbord of shit", he was using "shit" in the US sense of "stuff" rather than passing comment on its quality. The truthfulness of his statement is borne out tonight, with the goofy punks - completed by bassist/vocalist Gianni Aiello and drummer Henry LaVallee - sonically referencing everyone from the Pixies and Weezer to the White Stripes and Thee Oh Sees. 'Slow Dance II' is especially effective, temporarily calming everything down to a bluesy crawl only to detonate noisily.

As touring members of Car Seat Headrest, the Seattle trio have to be on best behaviour - but for now they're hyperactive kids having a ball while the teacher is out of the classroom, stars of the show living out all their fantasies. Mullen towels LaVallee's sweaty head like he's polishing a bowling ball before the drummer returns to attacking his skins and cymbals (the latter looking like someone's taken a bite out of them). They thank us for coming rather than choosing to see Slayer's swansong across town at the Arena, but they needn't have bothered - we already know we've made the right decision.

That much is confirmed - and indeed confirmed many times over - once the headliners take to the stage. Originally the solo project of the prodigious and precocious Will Toledo, Car Seat Headrest now feel much more like a genuine band - in the live environment, at least. The presence of Mullen and Aiello as well as permanent guitarist Ethan Ives has liberated Toledo from the burden of having to play guitar himself, freeing him to deliver his pithy lyrics as a proper frontman.

Not that he's someone who appears to crave the limelight, though. After a slew of self-releases, the combination of Teens Of Denial's ambition and brilliance and Matador's nous and reach brought Toledo to much wider attention and resulted in a deluge of critical acclaim. His response - revisiting and completely re-recording an old album, 2011's Twin Fantasy - might have been perceived in some quarters as perversely beating a hasty retreat, but it was clearly unfinished business, an itch he had to scratch.

The set consists almost entirely of songs culled from those two LPs and, with the exception of 'Beach Life-In-Death', it's the material from breakthrough Teens Of Denial that truly dazzles. The conclusion of Pavementy ramble '(Joe Gets Kicked Out Of School For Using) Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn't A Problem)' inspires a mass singalong - all together now: "Drugs are better / Drugs are better with / Friends are better / Friends are better with / Drugs ..." A dancefloor sinkhole opens up in anticipation for the climax of 'Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales'. 'Destroyed By Hippie Powers' is an absolute blast from start to finish, LaVallee prompted to abandon his percussionist's post, leap off stage and charge into the thick of the moshpit, cowbell held aloft.

Some would have you believe that all-male indie rock bands are a complete irrelevance in 2018, but Car Seat Headrest have clearly made a real connection. These are bona fide anthems - just not the sort that are either plumped up with the backing of a string section or ripe for conversion into boorish football terrace chants. And at the centre of it all, reluctantly, is Toledo, whose words - downbeat, self-deprecating, wearied, witty and wise - resonate with disaffected, idly intelligent kindred spirits everywhere.

(An edited version of this review appeared on the Buzz website.)

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