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Archive for the ‘Ted Leo + Pharmacists’ Category

[ATTENDED: August 24, 2019] Ted Leo and the Pharmacists

I recall being puzzled by the name of this band back ages ago when they were sometimes known as Ted Leo + Pharmacists.  It seemed like a cataloging nightmare.  But I can get over that and simply enjoy that Ted has fun with his band name (sometimes written as (TL/Rx)).  But this night they were billed as Ted Leo and the Pharmacists.  The Pharmacists have, as of late been a six piece:  Chris Wilson on drums, James Canty on guitar and keyboards, Marty Key on bass, Ralph Darden on guitar, and Adrienne Berry on saxophone and vocals and percussion.

After the bristling punk of Control Top, I wasn’t sure what Ted Leo would bring.  I know he has roots in punk, but surely not that much punk.  And, thankfully, he didn’t try to match Control Top, because that’s not his thing.  It is awesome that he brought them along, though.

Ted’s older songs were punky in the way that Billy Bragg’s early songs were punky–literate, angry and thoughtful–all to a catchy melody.  His newer songs are a bit more reflective (doom folk he called it).

He and the band came out and set things up and when he picked up his guitar people clapped and shouted.  He put a finger up–patience–and then they all left again for a couple of minutes. My only gripe about the show was that they made Control Top cut their set one song short because of time, and then Ted and Co. waited about ten minutes after their gear was set up to come out on stage–they could have played that one last song.  But that’s okay, Ted made up for it.   (more…)

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[ATTENDED: August 24, 2019] Control Top

I have wanted to see Ted Leo for a while.  In fact I almost saw him July 1 at Boot & Saddle, but that was a hectic week for me.  The opening band for that show was Tact, a Philadelphia band.  I was sure that after missing that show I’d have to wait a while for him to come around again.

But then he announced a brief tour that stopped in his once home state of New Jersey.  And I got to go to White Eagle Hall.  I love the venue.  It has great sound and it’s pretty close.  But man the lighting is terrible for taking pictures.

The opening band for this little tour was Control Top, another Philadelphia band.  Philly has been producing some great bands of late and Control Top is definitely one of them.

I was surprised by this billing because they couldn’t be any different.  It’s true that Leo has roots in the punk scene but Control Top is pure screaming punk through and through. like on “Black Hole

I listened to their album before the show and was pleased by their roaring sound and the intense vocals of Ali Carter.

But I was totally unprepared for the guitar theatrics of Al Creedon.  He didn’t do anything fancy but the noises that he wrung from that guitar were just unbelievable.  Even moreso was that he could come out of squalling noises like in “Type A” and jump right into a pretty or unexpectedly light riff.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TED LEO-Tiny Desk Concert #680 (December 4, 2017).

Up until now, I have more or less missed Ted Leo and all of his phases.  The blurb notes:

How you listen to Leo depends on when his work came into your life. If you’re a back-in-the-day type you might rep for Chisel, his ’90s punk outfit born on the Notre Dame campus and bred in Washington, D.C. If you’re just tuning in, you may have witnessed his understated comedy chops in arenas like The Best Show on WFMU and a highly enjoyable Twitter feed. At the center of this bell curve are those who found Leo at the dawn of the 2000s — when, at the helm of what’s most commonly called Ted Leo and the Pharmacists (shout-out to the typographical variants still mucking up iTunes libraries), he kicked off a run of five stellar albums in just under 10 years, each one urgently attuned to its political context and yet defiant in its ideas of what punk could sound like and whose stories it could aim to tell. Fans will tell you the songs about eating disorders and missing old ska bands felt just as vital to their moment as those that explicitly took on Sept. 11 and the Iraq War.

I know Ted Leo from when he played with Aimee Mann as The Both (they did a Tiny Desk show) and I am aware of Ted Leo + Pharmacists (the above mentioned typographical variant), but I somehow never really heard him/them.  I didn’t even know he was a Jersey guy.  (My friend Al is a big fan, I recently learned).

Recently, WXPN has been playing his new song “Can’t Go Back” which is wonderfully poppy and catchy and which I sing along to each morning.  Leaning more about him (and how funny he is in the Tiny Desk show) makes me want to see what I’ve been missing.

I obviously had no idea about his punk past, so I was pretty surprised to hear the feedback and heavy guitar of the first song here “Moon Out of Phase.”  Leo sings pretty hard on this song, too.  It’s fairly simple musically, but there’s a bunch going on lyrically that’s fun to pick out.

[After] the bone-rattling slow burn “Moon Out of Phase,” he smiled and explained the song was perhaps “a little heavy for noon — but, practically speaking, it helps me get the cobwebs out.”

“Can’t Go Back” couldn’t be more different. It’s catchy and not at all heavy.  It has backing vocals (provided by Leo himself) and just swings along.

 It’s a bit faster than on record, and as the blurb notes:

By the time he hit the first chorus of “Can’t Go Back,” a danceable bop about accepting that the life you have isn’t quite the one you planned for, any remaining cobwebs had been scattered to the wind.

Interestingly for being such a guitar based guy, there;s no solos on the songs (and yet they’re not short either, the first and third songs are about 4 minutes long).  Rather than a solo on “Can’t Get Back,” there’s a cool guitar chord progression.

He seems unsure of the quality of that song (not sure why–because he doesn’t hit those high notes perfectly?)  But then says he’ll finish off with a request.  “I’m a Ghost” is an old song that he doesn’t usually play solo, but figured he would because of the time of year (guess this was recorded around Halloween).

He tells an amusing story about someone asking about the first line: “I’m ghost and I wanted you to know its taking all of my strength to make this toast.”  The person asked if the toast was “a toast” or a ghost pressing the lever down on a toaster and “the hand of the frosty apparition is just going through the thing.”  He says it was originally “a toast” but now it is absolutely about the toaster, that’s the greatest metaphor for so many things.”

It’s really about “alienation from the political process.” It’s more rocking, like the first song, but with a catchy chorus like the second song.  This is a fun set and a good, long-overdue introduction to Ted Leo.

[READ: April 6, 2017] The Golden Vendetta

This is the third full-sized book in the Copernicus series.  It follows the mini-book about Becca.

I enjoyed this book more than the second one.  I enjoy the sections where they have some downtime and aren’t just running around.  And there was more downtime in this book.  I was also really intrigued by the way it began.

The families had been reunited and them separated.  So Darrell and Wade and the adults Kaplans were living in a hotel under an assumed name.  And Lily and Becca were also together under assumed names–but they were not allowed to contact the boys.  This went on for two months.

In that time Galina Krause had been inactive.  We learn that she had been in a coma, but the good guys never find that out, they’re just in the dark for months.

Until Galina wakes up and is on the move again.  And then everyone is on the move.

The families travel under assumed names but are still followed relentlessly by the bad guys. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TED LEO & PHARMACISTS-“The Numbered Head” from Score! 20 Years of Merge Records: The Covers (2009).

 I really like the guitar sound that Leo creates for this song—angular and reminiscent of late 80s alt rock.  It’s not that different from the original, but it really grabs you.  By the time the big chorus kicks in, there are big vocals and big guitars,  It’s a nice pairing with the noisy solo and more aggressive verses.

Once I realized it was a Robert Pollard cover it made complete sense—it sounds exactly like a Guided By Voices song. Pollard’s version is about thirty seconds longer and I think that makes the difference.  I’ve always been kind of eh about Pollard.  I think some of his songs are awesome and some are just okay—he needs a serious editor (which is a funny thing to say about someone who has so many songs that are about a minute long).  I’ve also never really gotten into Ted Leo, although everything I’ve heard by him I like.  And this is no exception.

I prefer the Ted Leo version, and maybe it’s time to see what else he and Pharmacists have done.

[READ: April 4, 2012] “Hand on the Shoulder”

Its funny how different writers handle pacing so differently.  It’s kind of amazing in general how writing can have such different pacing.  Typically, Ian McEwan’s pacing is slow.  Not dull, but slow.  His stories evolve, they don’t just happen.

And that’s why it takes a little while to read this story.  It’s not especially long, but the pacing is very detailed (as befits who the main character becomes).  It also turns out that this is an excerpt from a novel (New Yorker, you fooled me again—although I kind of assumed this was an excerpt because I don’t think of McEwan as being a short story writer).  Knowing it’s an excerpt means the pacing makes even more sense.  This is a story that will unfold—there’s no hurry.

Serena Frome was recruited by the British security service forty years ago in 1972.  She was attending Cambridge and had just started dating a boy named Jeremy Mott.  Jeremy was an amazingly selfless lover—lasting for hours but never seeming  to reach orgasm himself.  We twenty-first century types know what this probably means about Jeremy, but Serena (and presumably Jeremy) didn’t find out until after they had broken up and he was then dating a man. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: The Believer June 2004 Music Issue CD (2004).

Every year since 2004, The Believer magazine has published a Music Issue which comes with a CD.

I recently received the 2009 CD, but I thought it might be fun to go back through the previous ones and see what kind of music they put on them since the beginning.  I was delighted to see how many bands I like now that I was either introduced to or SHOULD have been introduced to by these discs.

The inaugural issue was a fantastic collection of then-underground alt-rock (the issue also featured interviews with a few of the artists–you can see the Colin Meloy interview here).

The collection contains all previously released songs (I think).  But for me it was a great introduction to a number of bands that I didn’t know: The Walkmen, The Mountain Goats, Ted Leo + Pharmacists.  It also contained a new release by a band I did know, The Constantines.   And, this was my introduction to a band that turned out to be one of my new favorites: Death Cab for Cutie.

There’s a lot of great songs on here, and it would make a great hanging-out-at-a-party-with-friends soundtrack.  There’s not a lot of diversity on the disc which is a bit of  a bummer (although it’s good for a mellow party).  However, the 19 second blast of “You Got the Right” by the Tiny Hawks does break things up a bit.

But with a great collection of songs it would be wrong to complain.  For a complete listing (and another review) check out this page.

[READ: December 9, 2009] “The Use of Poetry”

Ian McEwan writes fantastically engaging stories about relatively simple things, oftentimes relationships.  And he has these relationships so well sussed out that a simple six-page story like this can pack in a ton of humanity.

In a post some time ago I wrote about how World War II affected Britain much more than it affected the U.S.  And, how artists of a certain age have found great drama from the war.  This story is no exception.  Except that the war veteran is not the main character.  But I loved this summary of the main character’s dad, the typical “stoic British man.”

Like many men of his generation, he did not speak of his experiences and he relished the ordinariness of postwar life, its tranquil routines, its tidiness and rising material well-being, and above all, its lack of danger–everything that would later appear stifling to those born in the first years of the peace.

That’s an amazing encapsulation of a generation of men.  And it rings very true to me.  But what’s more amazing is that that description is not even about the main character Michael, it’s about his dad, Henry. (more…)

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