Disclosure: as a fairly new fan, I can’t name every song Naked Giants and Car Seat Headrest played during their concert at Bristol’s SWX centre. But what I’m certain of is that they played them fantastically. Here’s how it went down:
The show starts promptly at 7.30 with a fifty-minute set from up-and-coming Seattle indie rock three-piece Naked Giants (whose frontman, Grant Mullen, I also interviewed that day). The grungy singalong rock of their recent debut SLUFF has been fine-tuned across countless live performances long before the band hit the recording studio, and it shows: these songs all translate perfectly from album to stage and are imbued with the fresh energy of a super-talented set of performers. Opening as nigh-unknowns for a crowd who’ve mostly come to see your touring partners is daunting, but the Giants take to it admirably: it’s evident that all three of them are having enormous fun as they pull off some satisfyingly synchronic moves, and the talkative, charming enthusiasm of bassist/vocalist Gianni Aiello as he jokes between songs and plays his instrument behind his head is infectious. Songs like “Everybody Thinks They Know (But No One Really Knows)” and the bouncy-then-rip-roaring “TV” move the crowd beautifully. That said, despite the excellent performance, there’s room for invention in the songwriting itself; this is clearly a fairly fresh band who have yet to quite escape from their influences and do something really new. Aside from some clever lyrics, the music is more fun (and it is fun) than it is intriguing or moving.
the anticipation that’s swelling as rapidly as the crowd is
Car Seat Headrest takes the stage at 8:45, to the anticipation that’s swelling as rapidly as the crowd is. The band has progressively expanded across its history and on this tour, Will Toledo (vocals), Ethan Ives (guitar), Andrew Katz (drums) and Seth Dalby (bass) has absorbed Naked Giants’ trio to form a self-proclaimed “supergroup”. Unfortunately, Ives has “fallen off a cliff” and had to leave the tour early, but you would not know it: the room is charged as an Ives- and Toledo-less five construct an epic buildup for opener “Bodys”. When Toledo drifts onstage at the last second to deliver his characteristically nervous opening line (“That’s not what I meant to say at all…”), his stage presence is immediately fantastic: he moves with a quiet confidence that’s somehow at once self-effacing and entirely captivating. Having a bigger band has freed him up to ditch rhythm guitar and focus on his vocals, now stronger than ever, and he even dances (in his classic like-nobody’s-watching fashion).
CSH tear through tracks from 2016 album Teens of Style and 2018 rerelease Twin Fantasy: many of the songs have been to various degrees reworked for a live setting. Catchy, oscillating “Fill in the Blank”, for instance, has a new intro. Others, like “Beach Life-in-Death”, sound remarkably album-accurate. It all works beautifully; CSH are by now consummate professionals, and the songwriting and performance reflect it. There is a spattering of little inter-song banter now – and particular silence from Toledo. They just take you from song to song, never for a moment letting their momentum drop. The highlight of the night is “Drunk-Drivers/Killer Whales”, as much a showstopper on stage as it is on Teens of Denial. It starts quietly but builds to an explosive, anthemic chorus that has the whole room passionately wailing its lungs out in an ecstatic energy that has fans smiling through sobs right through the final songs and the more serene encore. When the six players finally leave the stage, you get the sense that the audience doesn’t want them to go. Something rather special has happened for them, and they’re still experiencing it. As you walk back through Bristol, you hear them singing all the way home.