Ted Leo and The Pharmacists

This isn’t a review, really. More a collection of thoughts I’ve had on Ted Leo over the years since I first took notice of him. I’m going to see his show tonight at Fireside Bowl, and I’m pretty excited. I’ve had a couple chances to see him here in Chicago over the last year, but things fell through for one reason or another. Nothing will stop me tonight. Even if Fireside Bowl literally starts on fire, I will be there front and center (or, more accurately, toward the back) listening intently.

I’ve always found Ted Leo fascinating. He’s like the Zac De La Rocha of singer/songwriters. He plays a kind of easily digestible punk rock for intelligent people. It’s a genre that goes greatly untapped. On my list of the best songwriters working right now, he’s in the top 30. That’s saying quite a bit considering the company he’s in.

The first album I got was Shake The Sheets. It was released in ’04, and I picked it up somewhere in mid-’05. I had heard the single “Me And Mia” on college radio, and figured I’d check it out. I was amazed how powerful the record was. “Mia” isn’t really a rager, and I was thinking it would be something closer to indie-pop than post-punk. A pleasant surprise, of course. And one that’s lead me to listen to everything they’ve put out before and after.

The second thing I grabbed was a download of a cover medley he did a little while after Shake The Sheets. At this time I was still driving every day, and listening to the radio was just barely tolerable. Now, I make no excuses for this, but I enjoy some of Kelly Clarkson’s pop hits. Most notably “Since U Been Gone.” I realized after a while that the reason I like it so much is because it sounds exactly like “Maps” by The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. After months of trying to prove this, Ted Leo closed the case.

That performance alone cemented a spot in my heart forever.

Not everything Ted Leo and The Pharmacists do is great. In fact, their most recent release, The Brutalist Bricks, is just good. The first two releases by the band are kind of a mixed bag of decent stuff and not-so-great stuff. By the time Tell Balgeary, Balgury Is Dead came out, the band really hit a stride (though I’ve read that most of the songs here were solo). From that EP through Living With The Living, there’s nary a bad song to be found.

The group is experimental, and try a lot of different things live and in the studio. It’s one of the things I love about them. Never happy with how things are, always trying to improve songs, giving the listener a different song every time they hear it; well, it’s great that a band cares enough about their music and their fans to want to do that. In a world where bands like U2 can afford to build ridiculous  monstrosity’s and sound systems that make “Elevation” sound exactly like it did on the album, it’s good that bands are still taking risks.

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists are one of the bands that come to my mind most rapidly when I hear the words “artistic integrity.”

I’m not taking the camera to the show tonight, because I have a feeling we will be smashed in like sardines. I don’t want to break it, so I won’t take that chance. I will take my little Flip, just in case we are close enough where video is an option.

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