Every April, while the majority of Los Angeles concert-going culture migrates to Indio, 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 and play more intimate, longer sets to enthusiastic, passionate crowds. This year, I started my LA-chella week at The Regent in Downtown, who hosted Canadian Post-Punk auteurs Preoccupations (previously known under Viet Cong) and indierock 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. Preoccupations hit the stage first, the four-piece band standing as close as they collectively could to the edge of the stage, and immediately hit the ground running with “Select Your Drone” from their selfreleased 2013 cassette release as Viet Cong. This set a precedent for the show, as their droning, shoegazey feedback and reverb soundscapes amounted to fast-paced synth-tinged post-punk, filled with tempo changes, crescendos, non-stop marching from frontman Matt Flegel’s rhythmic bass marathons, and impressive, complex drum patterns, all of which make Preoccupations the explosive, impressive battlefield of sound they are.
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 doesn’t suggest that”, as Wallace took his shirt off in order to rip into 11-minute-long “Memory”. The crowd was clearly in majority not there for Preoccupations, but with the incessant energy from their marathon performance, and with songs like “Stimulation”, “Zodiac” and “Degraded” they had the crowd dancing, bouncing and viciously headbanging.
They closed their set with their infamous live rendition of their 2015 album closer “Death”, an 11 minute monolith on the record that turns into a 15 minute climax and resolution that is only fitting for a show so layered and complex in rhythm and calculated sound-scaping. The song included their renowned seven minute breakdown consisting of four notes repeated for what seems is an eternity, toying with the audience, and testing the patience of the Car Seat Headrest portion of the crowd, before 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 and one last low-tone drone to play them out.
An hour later, the lights dimmed ten minutes earlier than expected, and out came a lone Will Toledo, frontman of Car Seat Headrest, accompanied by an acoustic guitar, his signature thick-rimmed glasses, and a beautiful ocean blue light drowning the stage. “This is a slow-dance” were his first words on-stage, before noodling a familiar tune on the guitar, developing slowly into a stripped-down cover of Frank Ocean’s “Self-Control” from last year’s epic “Blond”– a cornerstone album for most Western millennials. Toledo’s meticulously crafted, crooning rendition of the tune showed this, and 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)” “Fill In The Blank”, not just warming up but injecting the audience with a massive shot of energy and euphoria as the choruses were yelled 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 and masterful exchanged parts with Toledo throughout the show, making the twoguitar 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 that 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, with coming-of-age themes like “Vincent” provoking 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, before jetting onto 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 Toledo and Los Angeles.
The band walked off after their tenth song, “Famous Prophets (Minds)” and came back for a single-song encore, covering David Bowie’s “Teenage Wildlife”, renditioned so that non-Bowie fans would never assume it wasn’t 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.