Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ted Leo & the Pharmacists/Title Tracks; March 14, 2010

I’ve only seen Ted Leo a few times, but every one of them has been memorable. The first time was an unbelievably sweltering afternoon at the Pitchfork Music Fest in Chicago where he bashed himself in the head with the microphone mid-set and spent the rest of his time on stage with blood streaming down his face. The second was a steamy show at Union South nearly three years ago where no such theatrics were necessary to make the show remarkable, just rocking really hard was more than enough. Leo did not let the fact that he hadn’t been to Madison in awhile go unmentioned, repeatedly thanking us all for coming out on a Sunday night, especially since it had been such a long time. The near-capacity crowd roared in approval. There was a pent-up energy in the room that seemed likely to explode any moment. Thankfully however, they put all that vigor into cheering instead of into a mosh pit. I was thankful Marco Pogo wasn’t there to initiate it.

Leo and his Pharmacists, James Canty on guitar, Marty Key on bass and Chris Wilson on drums, played an exhausting 90 minute set, including all (or almost all) of the terrific new record The Brutalist Bricks. The ridiculously catchy “A Bottle and a Cork” came early in the set. Leo never backs off on a lyric and in the hands of another, one less frenzied, the repeated line “Tell the bartender, I think I’m falling in love” might have grown old after the twentieth time, but every time Leo spit it out it sounded just as urgent as the time before, till I was wondering why no one had told the bartender yet, don’t they know how important this is? Leo has been know to pull out some interesting covers in his live sets, everything from Kelly Clarkson to Curtis Mayfield, but even knowing that I was not prepared for the first song of he encore. He took the stage solo with his guitar, looked straight into the crowd and sang “I wish I was a fisherman..” If I had guessed all day I don’t think I ever would have come up with the Waterboys’ “Fisherman’s Blues” as a viable cover for Leo, especially solo with just an electric guitar.

In addition to rocking ridiculously hard, Leo was also pretty funny the whole time, though sometimes he just didn’t know when to stop talking. Within a few songs, he was drenched in sweat (I told you he rocked hard). As it ran into his eyes he grimaced in pain. “Sorry, I’ve got this toxic sweat,” he explained as he dabbed at his eyes. At which point he and Canty began a discussion of how great a band name that would be, if it wasn’t already. At one point I am pretty sure he decided it could be a duo, and he would be Johnny Toxic, “and you,” he paused and pointed at Canty, “would be Keith Sweat.” Groan. Just past the halfway point his second amp stopped working, Key did a brief analysis, “it’s smoking.” “Well at least you guys got two thirds of a set with two amps, Minneapolis, tough shit,” which caused the crowd to roar in approval. “All I need is this amp,” Leo proclaimed, and I could have predicted his next line, “and my dog.” “What, you guys haven’t seen The Jerk?” he asked in amazement.

Opening band the Title Tracks took their job of warming the crowd up seriously. Their opening set which started a half hour after the posted start time of 8 PM was full of the big choruses and catchy tunes that make you feel like you know all the songs even though you are hearing them for the first time. Their debut CD was written and recorded by lead singer John Davis, and it was impossible not to get caught up in his charisma and enthusiasm. They ended their set with an Otis Redding tune, but instead of “Dock of the Bay” like everyone expected they pulled out one of his more obscure tunes. “They should play your basement,” Bill enthused after the set. I agreed, and then the August Teens could open.

Title Tracks

Ted Leo & the Pharmacists

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