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Car Seat Headrest bring summer to a fiery end at First Ave

Car Seat Headrest: They didn't bring the car onstage last night.

Car Seat Headrest: They didn't bring the car onstage last night. Photo provided by Matador Records

Now that all the glossy pop acts have left our stadiums, and the dinosaurs lumbered off to other state fairs, the Twin Cities was in desperate need of a good palate-cleansing.

And that’s what we got on Wednesday night with a healthy dose of rowdy garage rock from Car Seat Headrest. Their 85-minute set at a sold-out First Avenue Mainroom was the best back-to-school event the kids in the audience could have asked for, as Will Toledo and his band presided over a real rock and roll benediction.

Opening their set with a simmering instrumental bit from “The End of Dramamine” that morphed into a surprising cover of Lou Reed’s “Waves of Fear,” the seven-piece group (featuring Toledo, guitarist Ethan Ives, bassist Seth Dalby, drummer Andrew Katz, as well as the entire opening act, Naked Giants) showed no signs of rust on the kickoff show of their North American tour. Toledo never once needed to even pick up an instrument, what with that roiling wall of sound behind him. 

The group is touring behind a re-working of the intimate, lo-fi Twin Fantasy, and "Bodys," "Cute Thing" and an absolutely epic "Beach Life-in-Death" all took on an expansive, urgent edge. Toledo mentioned that he first crossed paths with the guys in Naked Giants at the Ground Zero in Bellevue, Washington. "We went on tour together, and then we played a song together, and then we played a lot of songs together," Toledo said affectionately.

That easy camaraderie within the group injected the songs with a fresh, collective spirit. No longer lonesome, isolated anthems, these tunes became celebrations of friendship and discovery. The songs were greeted by an entire floor of pogoing fans, whose response transformed them into unifying rallying cries for anyone who needs to feel a part of something special.

"Fill in the Blank" was given a retro sounding, Rolling Thunder Revue-like reworking, with the chorus becoming a boisterous crowd singalong for all of us outsiders who have been made to feel self-conscious about the voices in our head. "(Joe Gets Kicked Out Of School for Using) Drugs with Friends (But Says This Isn't a Problem)" became an anthem for anyone who did drugs to feel less awkward and try to fit in, but wasn't compelled to tell everyone about it—unless it's in a song as grand and sweeping as this.

"Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales" featured another mass singalong, as the slow burning number gradually built up to its triumphant release. For a brief moment, the frustrations and concerns of those in the crowd were lifted as we all sang in one collective voice, "It doesn't have to be like this!"

Toledo turned into a cheerleader/conductor during a vehement run through of "Destroyed by Hippie Powers," exhorting the band to crank up the sound and energy even more. "For some reason, that wasn't the last one," Toledo joked, while recognizing just how good that version was. "This one is, and this is the first time we've ever played it." What followed was "Something Soon" from 2015's Teens of Style, freshly reworked, which ended the main set with a rousing jolt.

A massive, 15-minute version of "Beach Life-in-Death" emphatically closed down the show, with the sprawling three-part suite once again setting the crowd off. It was another celebratory moment in a show filled with them. If summer does indeed have to come to an end, this was a hell of a way for it to go out.

Setlist
The End of Dramamine/Waves of Fear (Lou Reed cover)
Bodys
Fill in the Blank
Sober to Death
(Joe Gets Kicked Out Of School for Using) Drugs with Friends (But Says This Isn't a Problem)
America (Never Been)
Cute Thing
Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales
Destroyed by Hippie Powers
Something Soon

Encore
Beach Life-in-Death