Car Seat Headrest at the Roundhouse, Nils Lofgren at the Barbican, May 2018

Two excellent concerts In London over the last week and a half. First up was Car Seat Headrest at the Roundhouse on 23 May; then Nils Lofgren in the rarified surroundings of the Barbican on 28 May. In between that, of course, Kath and I were up in Edinburgh for the Leith festival, which I wrote about the other day.

I’ve saw Car Seat Headrest a couple of times in 2017, first at Gorilla in Manchester, then on the Garden Stage at End of the Road. Brilliant both times, with “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” the best anthem around. Leader of the band is Will Toledo. He’s made a shedload of albums over the years, although he’s not that old yet – 26. 2016’s “Teens of Denial” is the one that really gave the band some profile. There were so many great songs on that, including “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”, “Destroyed by Hippy Powers”, “Fill in the Blank” and “1937 State Park”. Laden with punching riffs, miserable but witty lyrics, and some killer choruses.

I managed to persuade a few of my friends to come along on Wednesday: Dave, Jon E and Jon G. At least no-one has to worry about confusing our names! And I think they were impressed – by the depth and variety of the sounds, as well as those riffs. Only about half of the set was familiar to me, as a fair bit of it came from a recent re-release of an album called “Twin Fantasy”. I read about that then forgot ever to listen to it. The set opened with a Lou Reed cover (thank you Setlist FM!) called “Waves of Fear” then ploughed into a lively piece from that new / old album called “Bodys” (sic). There was some serious moshing going on at the front and in the middle of the crowd. The most I’ve seen at the Roundhouse. We were in the seats above, gazing down at the melee. But it showed how this band have taken off with the twenty-somethings.  Highlights for me were an awesome “Hippie Powers” and then, of course, “Drunk Drivers”. Positively euphoric that one, as we reached the killer whales! “Cute Thing”, from “Twin Fantasy” packed a real punch too.

There was another cover, just before “Drunk Drivers”, which got our group very excited: “Crossed Eyed and Painless”. One of the great Talking Heads songs, from “Remain in Light”. An interesting one for the band to cover, being a slice of afro-funk – not the usual Car Seat Headrest fare. But Will Toledo is clearly not a man to stand still – there is a lot going on in that head of his.

The band also played a four song encore – unusual these days (unless you are Bruce Springsteen and never want to stop). Three from “Twin Fantasy”, including the 13 minute epic “Beach Life-In-Death” at the end. My photo above is deceptive too, because Will hardly touched the guitar all night, except to play one where he thought the band weren’t getting it right. Clearly Car Seat Headrest is his project and it is going to be done his way.

This is a band, and a character, really worth looking out for in the coming years. They are back in London in November, at Brixton Academy. Guaranteed sell-out.

Nils Lofgren has been on the road for 50 years and has been playing in Bruce Springsteen’s band for 34 years, after he stepped in for Steve van Zandt on the “Born in the USA” tour in the mid 80s. He is an amazing guitar player and has a beautiful, mellifluous voice, which doesn’t seem to have lost any of its tone, despite his advancing years. We saw Nils at the Union Chapel in 2015. That was a great show, and if anything, this one was even better. As then, he was accompanied just by Greg Verlotta, on keyboards, guitar, trumpet – anything necessary really! Nils mostly played a variety of acoustic guitars, fed through the electronics so he could play the solos and create all sorts of effects. It was a real masterclass in subtle, inventive guitar playing. He delved right back to his early days, playing a few Grin songs and a smattering of favourites from his debut solo album, including “Rock’n’Roll Crook”, a re-worked “Keith Don’t Go” and a lovely version of Carole King’s “Goin’ Back”, with Nils on keyboards. “I Came to Dance” had Nils donning his tap shoes, though we don’t get the tambourine flips these days – he’s had two hip replacements! Another real highlight for me was his intricate guitar over a looped riff during “Girl in Motion”. Stunning.

And then, as part of the encore, he sang the Bruce-penned sing made famous by Patti Smith, “Because the Night”. The anthem of the night.

Yeah, a wonderful concert; and you put that together with Car Seat Headrest, and add in Steena Tweeddale and Dream Wife in Leith, what a feast of amazing music in a fortnight! What a privilege.

Next up, later today, The National and The War on Drugs at All Points East in Victoria Park, Hackney. Better get on that Central Line!

About John S

I'm blogging about the things I love outside work: music, sport, culture, London, with some photos to illustrate aspects of our wonderful city. And anything else that I happen to think is worth writing about!
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3 Responses to Car Seat Headrest at the Roundhouse, Nils Lofgren at the Barbican, May 2018

  1. Dood says:

    Two excellent records of a fine brace of gigs. J. I was indeed impressed with Car Seat Headrest, as you know – as much by the guy’s ambition and imagination as by anything else. As I said at the time, they seem like a work in progress, but a fascinating one.

    Nils, of course, by contrast, is the finished article, and – even more than the Union Chapel show – this felt like a warm, nostalgic tour de force of his half-century (gulp) in the game. Hence plaudits all round, nice anecdotes from the road, endless gratitude to “the lovely Amy”, a generous spot for the emerging Danish guitarist, and a wonderful rapport with a British crowd for whom he clearly feels much affection.

    Interesting, too, that – like Bruce – he cites the British pop scene/invasion as a key moment in his musical evolution. Both see themselves as soul men, infused with late fifties/early sixties R & B, but each one influenced by the rock and pop of the Stones (I think especially), Who, Beatles and, erm, Herman’s Hermits. I had a strong sense that this was meant totally sincerely, rather than just a throwaway sop to the home crowd; all of which added to the warmth of his interaction that night.

    A great gig, and I found it quite an emotional one too.

    • John S says:

      Thanks for that. yeah, agree with you n all you’ve said. probably THE highlight for the two gigs for me was “Drunk Drivers/ Killer Whales” because it is just such an anthem. But I did come home and download some more Nils Lofgren. Still no “Cry Tough” anywhere. Must be some kind of legal problem.

  2. The more I listen to Car Seat Headrest, the more I like it. Hopefully one of the festivals here will bring them over. Or I might have to do it myself if I can stay afloat with all these gigs I’ve been organising.

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