Live Reviews: Theater District rocks with hot shows

Car Seat Headrest and Joe Jackson weren't quite that polar opposite


Once it was Lansdowne Street and then Central Square. Now Boston’s Theater District has become the busiest place in town for concerts, sprinkled over Royale, the Wilbur, and both the Boch Center Wang Theatre and Shubert Theatre.

Two of this mid-week’s hottest shows graced adjoining venues with the idea that rock’s not dead for acts embracing broad, sophisticated variations on that genre and resonant lyrics of wit and angst. You can’t hit more polar age demographics than Car Seat Headrest and Joe Jackson, but each had their fans singing along.

You really heard fans chiming and pulsing to the songs of Car Seat Headrest mastermind Will Toledo (pictured above) at Royale on Thursday – to the point of shaking the dance floor near the stage. What began as a bedroom project for Toledo has grown into an indie-rock monster, not only on the more-produced 2018 remake of his 2011 Bandcamp release Twin Fantasy (’80s-quirky “Bodys” and masher “Cute Thing” fired up singalongs early) but in his expanded live band. With members of opening act Naked Giants aboard, the young septet freed loose-limbed frontman Toledo from playing much guitar, since three other guys had that covered — and crushed it.

In addition to gnashing, harmonized counterpoint (new song “Weightlifters”), the guitarists carried a cover of Neil Young’s “Powderfinger,” even with vocals beyond the more winsome-voiced Toledo. Before the 85-minute set peaked with twin nuggets from 2016’s Teens of Denial, Toledo responded to a prom proposal in the crowd by suggesting one’s answer would be “no” for the ruminating “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” and “yes” for the calamitous rocker “Destroyed by Hippie Powers.”

The night before at the Shubert, British new-wave iconoclast Joe Jackson served a crisp two-hour show that celebrated the singer/pianist’s 40-year career by showing the consistent quality and genre fluidity (for instance jazz, punk and Latin music) across his catalog.

Seated throughout on a high stool at an electric keyboard combo, Jackson leaned on his excellent-as-ever new album Fool, early with “Fabulously Absolute” (iced with a snaky synth melody) and “Dave,” a musing tune about an unambitious bloke. But as usual, Jackson’s band — lately a quartet including longtime bassist Graham Maby — proved top-notch, precisely juggling song treatments. The energy level dipped a bit at mid-set. But highlights included sparkplug “One More Time,” tender ballad “Breaking Us in Two,” deep cut “Drowning,” the salsa-tinged “Cancer,” a crowd-revving “I’m the Man,” and of course “Steppin’ Out” — arranged as Jackson recorded it in New York in 1982 with glockenspiel (courtesy of Maby) and the original drum machine thrown in.

Jackson’s crew also pulled out a couple of surprise covers in the Beatles’ “Rain” and Steely Dan’s “King of the World” — and it wasn’t the first time on Wednesday that the mood-painting group evoked the Dan with its impeccably clean musicianship.

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