Ted Leo and the Pharmacists @ The Epicenter, 4/10/2007
story and pics by Natalie Kardos

Goaded by Pitchfork’s claim that “no rock band currently touring puts on a better live show than the Pharmacists,” I decided to brave the journey up to Mira Mesa and the first all-ages venue that I’ve been inside of since last July. This being my first visit to the Epicenter, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect – I just knew that I was hoping for something better than Soma. And I was pleasantly surprised. The venue was quite intimate, reminding me of the Casbah. With the exception of a bar, of course. And it seemed to me that the crowd was a little more respectful than those usually in attendance at Soma.

Due to a slight illness and the early start of the show, I unfortunately missed the opening band Love of Diagrams. I arrived during set change and didn’t have long to wait before Ted Leo and his band took the stage. They started things off with a bang by playing a roaring version of “Sons of Cain,” off of their new album Living with the Living. Then, three songs into the set, he pulled out the ever popular “Me and Mia,” to the delight of the mixed crowd of young punks and older hipsters. In between songs, he mocked the crowd – and himself – with some traditional East Coast sarcasm. He called out the crowd for being too quiet (“I was just noticing, that’s all.”) and himself for trying to be a comedian when he was paid to be a musician.

All told, the band ripped out a set of about 20 songs, all defying classification into a single genre. “The Unwanted Things” comes off as reggae-tinged, “Bottle of Buckie” has a bit of an Irish flavor to it (and the penny whistle riff on the album version was nicely translated live into a guitar riff), and “Walking to Do” and “Me and Mia” are quintessential pop songs. The one thing that all of Ted Leo’s songs do have in common, however, is that their bright sound and upbeat melody belie the (often) political nature of his lyrics. Call it a sniper attack on his young fans, if you will. They find themselves singing along to songs like “Army Bound,” then realizing that laid over the catchy guitar hooks are lyrics such as “in every cradle there’s a grave now/in every owner there’s a slave now.” Lyrics that describe how the army mainly recruits poorer folk who have no other means to better their situation. His music attempts to raise our social and political consciousness, and I appreciate that someone out there is finding the voice to do so.

Walking out of the show, a British friend who wasn’t very familiar with Ted Leo’s music remarked that it seemed rather “American” to him, and then proceeded to draw a comparison to Ben Folds. I won’t claim that either of those thoughts had occurred to me before, but I could see exactly what he was getting at. Both Ted Leo and Ben Folds make music that stubbornly refuses to fit into a single, neat genre. As soon as you think you have it nailed down, they throw a curveball your way. Their music stems from a melting pot of influences, and that, I think, is what makes it American. And well, they both kick-ass live. I doubt that there was an inch of the stage that hadn’t been stomped on, jumped on, or rocked out by the end of the set. And that, in the end, is what will always keep me coming back for more.
Ted Leo

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