Rusty Ted Leo Gets Raucous

Live: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
Venue: Great American Music Hall
Date: Friday, March 2
Openers: Georgie James, So Many Dynamos, Pony Come Lately
Better than: Saving a bunch of money on your car insurance.
Rating: B+

The mysterious forces of the universe can sometimes conspire to prevent a well-meaning concert reviewer from catching the first band. Sincerest apologies, local supergroup Pony Come Lately; you were missed, but not forgotten. Second to play was So Many Dynamos, an emo/indie-rock quartet from St. Louis kicking off a twenty-date US tour. Tight jeans, faded tees, and delightfully unkempt ‘dos softened the group’s otherwise tough sound, which drew from At the Drive-In descendants such as Dismemberment Plan and Les Savy Fav.
Georgie James is a cute name for a cute band with a cute sound. Brandishing a classic pop style not unlike the Shins, Georgie James was the first band of the night to get the audience moving — though it should have moved even more than it did. Despite the crowd’s reluctant response, the band’s sweet power-pop hit the mark with gorgeous melodies and harmonies. Oddly enough, guitarist and lead singer John Davis used to drum for DC-based post-hardcore group Q and Not U. Keyboardist Laura Burhenn, who looked something like an indie version of Jennylee from Beauty and the Geek (let’s not get into how I know that), has a beautiful voice and was pursuing a solo career when the duo came together in late 2005. Davis and Burhenn were joined by a bassist and drummer.

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists were, without a doubt, the main event, for the crowd summoned whatever jaded energy it had left to welcome them. Wearing khaki pants and a navy blue polo buttoned all the way up, Leo didn’t exactly look the picture of punk. His performance, however, was full of fire and energy — despite a lingering illness — and that was all we needed. A series of miscues [the band failed to start a couple songs together], mistakes [Leo’s voice cracked, the drummer was off sync a couple times], and bad luck [Leo broke a distortion pedal and a guitar string toward the end] was distracting, but didn’t detract much from an otherwise solid set, which included almost everything off 2005’s Shake the Sheets as well as a surprising number of songs from the group’s forthcoming new record, Living with the Living, out March 20. As predicted, their exuberant punk/reggae/indie-rock translated excellently across the board.

One song from the new record, the hardcore-influenced “Bomb. Repeat. Bomb.,” provided the night’s most striking moment. The majority of Leo’s newer material is political in nature, but this track was more overtly angry than anything off Shake the Sheets. Bassist Dave Lerner screamed “Bomb, repeat, bomb, repeat, bomb!” into his mic throughout the song, while Ted Leo took his most aggressive stance of the night. He usually makes frustration and anger sound sexy, but this was blatantly different and stood out sharply in his set. It was like the downer that nonetheless needed to be said.

The band’s encore delivered more highlights: a solo version of “Bleeding Powers,” which proved Ted Leo can fill a room all by himself, then a closing cover of Chumbawamba’s “Rappaport’s Testament: I Never Gave Up.” The lyrics were from another group, but they conveyed Leo’s message perfectly. As his bandmates quietly put down their instruments and left the stage, he continued to chant the song’s closing couplet:I never gave up, I never gave up/I crawled in the mud but I never gave up. It was a fitting epithet for a man who’s been in the biz for almost 20 years with no loss of passion.

Previous experience: Shake the Sheets and a few random tracks from earlier records
Personal bias: Quickly fell in love with Shake the Sheets and the song “Hearts of Oak” from 2003 record of the same name
Random quote of the night: Dude in the audience requesting song: “Since U Been Gone! Since U Been Gone!” My friend: “Is that a Ted Leo song or does he mean the Kelly Clarkson song?” Ted Leo, hearing request onstage: “That would be bad for all of us.”


Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – “Me and Mia”

Georgie James – “More Lights”

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