Show Review: Preoccupations, Car Seat Headrest

While the majority of Los Angeles concert-going culture migrates to Indio early April, those who stay back get to enjoy Goldenvoice’s week-between-Coachella live show extravaganza here in Southern California. As the bands that rock the desert come into town, they play more intimate, longer sets to enthusiastic, passionate crowds. This year, I started my LA-chella week at The Regent in Downtown, hosts of Canadian Post-Punk Auteurs Preoccupations (previously known as Viet Cong) and indie-rock youth champion Car Seat Headrest. It was an eclectic yet strange double-headliner show that did not fail to prove why these two bands are such popular festival line-up inclusions. 

The four-piece band, the Preoccupations, hit the stage first, standing as close as they collectively could to the edge of the stage. They immediately hit the ground running with “Select Your Drone”, a track from their self-released 2013 release, Cassette. This set a precedent for the show, as their droning, shoe-gazey feedback and reverb soundscapes amounted to fast-paced synth-tinged post-punk, filled with tempo changes, crescendos. Also included was front man Matt Flegel’s rhythmic bass marathons and impressive, complex drum patterns, all of which give the Preoccupations an explosive sound. 

They rolled through most of their self-titled debut LP from 2016 (one of the best debuts of the year, in my opinion), and scattered Viet Cong cuts throughout the show. An impressive sight full of energy and angst, drummer Mike Wallace gave the kit his all, and drove the band forward with such momentum that led Flegel to scream and bounce along to the ending part of “Continental Shelf”, before clarifying that they were “actually really nice guys, even if the music does not suggest that”. Wallace took his shirt off in response while ripping into the eleven-minute long “Memory”. While the crowd was not primarily there for Preoccupations, the incessant energy from their marathon performance and songs “Stimulation”, “Zodiac” and “Degraded”, had the crowd dancing and viciously head-banging. 

They closed their set with their infamous live rendition of their 2015 album closer “Death”, an eleven-minute monolith that turns into a fifteen-minute climax; it has a resolution that is only fitting for a show so complex in rhythm and calculated soundscaping. The song included their renowned seven-minute breakdown, which consists of four notes repeated for what seems is an eternity. It toys with the audience while testing the patience of the Car Seat Headrest portion of the crowd, erupting in one last explosion of post-punk perfection. The air-tight group then took a bow and left the stage, leaving behind their sweat, spit, spilled drinks as one last low-tone drone played them out. 

Ten minutes earlier than expected, the lights dimmed and out came a lone Will Toledo, the frontman of Car Seat Headrest accompanied by an acoustic guitar, his signature thick-rimmed glasses, and a beautiful ocean blue light which drowned the stage. “This is a slow-dance” he said before noodling a familiar tune on the guitar which developed slowly into a stripped-down cover of Frank Ocean’s “Self-Control” from last year’s epic “Blonde”– a cornerstone album for most Western millennials. Toledo’s meticulously crafted rendition of the tune was accompanied by the low hum of the audience singing along, as if it was a Car Seat original. He finished, queued his band to come join, and properly kicking off his show with “Beast Monster Thing (Love Isn’t Enough)” and “Fill In The Blank”, not just warming up but injecting the audience with a massive shot of energy and euphoria. The songs’ choruses were chanted in unison by the crowd and Toledo alike. 

Clad in a “Listen to Fugazi” t-shirt, guitarist Ethan Ives filled in the blanks between verse lines with wonderful guitar hooks while masterfully exchanging parts with Toledo throughout the show. The two-guitar combination the only thing the band needed to shake The Regent to its core. Even during their slower cuts like “Maud Gone” and “Sober to Death”, the band gave Toledo the spotlight for most of the songs, before slowly erupting into dynamic jams. It felt like we were eavesdropping on a living room jam session between friends. 

The subject matter of the songs also rang true with the crowd, who were mostly in the ranges of 18-30, the exact age range of the characters that live within the self-conscious, yet self-aware content of the music; coming-of-age themes like “Vincent” provoked some of the biggest reactions from the attendees. The band asked the audience if they could practice their shorter arrangement for “Unforgiving Girl (She’s Not An)” in anticipation of their performance for CONAN on TBS the next day, then jetting into their most popular hit “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”, which had even the bartenders at the venue yelling along. “It never had to be like this!” screamed both Toledo and Los Angeles. (Watch the performance on CONAN here:

The band walked off after their tenth song “Famous Prophets (Minds)”, coming back for a single-song encore; the cover of David Bowie’s “Teenage Wildlife” could’ve easily convinced non-Bowie fans that the song was a Car Seat Headrest original. The energy, comfort and familiar awkwardness of the set was exactly what the night called for and Toledo did not disappoint.



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