by Jens Hoifeldt
Photos by Mary Mathis and Ellen Wines
An unreasonably cold Monday night doesn’t mean anything to Iowa City when Car Seat Headrest comes to Gabe’s. CSH began as the solo project of Will Toledo, a prolific multi-instrumentalist, and has grown into a full touring band. While a couple members of the regularly seven piece act were stranded in Minneapolis because of weather, the four central members of CSH took to the stage after renting a car and driving themselves to the show.
Local indie-rock band Halfloves opened the show with a short and sweet batch of tunes from their self-titled debut album, getting the crowd warmed up for the main attraction. By the time the headliner took the stage to set up, the audience had exploded in size. Rambunctious hoots and hollers filled the room when Will Toledo stepped up to the microphone, wearing a blue “Iowa Native” hoodie that he later pulled off to reveal an identical t-shirt underneath. The crowd roared with laughter at his bit, as Will, born and raised in Virginia, played it off without cracking a smile.
CSH kicked off their two hour set with a version of “The Ending of Dramamine”, typically a fourteen minute epic that opens How to Leave Town. This shortened instrumental reworking of a synth-heavy track, now performed with two raunchy electric guitars, creamy bass guitar, and a drum kit, exploded into walls of sound after a sneaky bass-and-drum groove, whipping the crowd into a frenzy. Keeping the energy up, CSH quickly transitioned into the opening track of Teens of Denial, “Fill in the Blank”, combined with the size and groove of the audience it seemed likely that the floor could cave in.
Save for the opening track and a performance of “Maud Gone” early in the set, the band stuck to songs from their two most beloved albums: Twin Fantasy, a 2011 cult favorite that was re-imagined and released in February of 2018, and the critically lauded Teens of Denial, an album released in 2016 and recipient of Pitchfork’s Best New Music award. The crowd was dominated by diehard fans, evident in the amount of lyrics sung or shouted along with the band song after song.
Before what was to be their final song, Toledo announced they would not be doing an encore and “Nervous Young Inhumans” would close the show. Despite his early warning, after CSH left the stage, the crowd stayed rooted in Gabe’s hardwood floors, demanding an encore. Car Seat Headrest returned to the stage to play “Bseach Life-in-Death”, which their drummer described as their “most physically demanding song.”
The sea of bodies at the front swayed back and forth, and the energy of people moshing behind them matched the energy of the thirteen minute song. Having satisfied the audience’s hunger for more rock n’ roll, the four casually sauntered off stage, disappearing immediately into the cold Iowa City air.