Saturday, April 28, 2007

Ted Leo & the Pharmacists @ Club 770

On Thursday night I kicked off a busy Spring concert season with a few friends at the old haunts on campus. I went with E Eugene, Natan and Dave to Union South to see one of my most anticipated shows in a while. Ted Leo and the Pharmacists have been one of my most-played bands over the last two years, and I finally got a change to see them live.

We started the night off right, meeting at the Weary Traveler on Willy Street for a pre-show meal and several Two Hearteds. I had heard of this show from my usual source, Muzzle of Bees. I've been burning the candle at both ends with work lately, spending at least a third of my time on the road at various locations in northern Minnesota and the Upper Peninsula. So I really needed this show to take my mind off things and blow off a little of the stress that comes with that much work. I've been a bit of a Ted Leo zealot lately, expousing his virtues to just about anyone who would listen. I even made a concerted effort to pick up his newest album, Living With The Living, the day it came out. Normally, that's not too hard, but in this instance I was on a site trip up near Bemidji, MN. I still managed to head straight to B-Side from MN, and it sounded even better in my fatigued and road-weary state.

The show was at Club 770 at Union South, which for those not in the know is a glorified conference room in the second student union structure on the UW campus. While the Memorial Union Rathskellar and the Terrace prove to be the best spot on campus to see a band, Club 770 has consistently proven to book great acts that draw their own crowd. Put it this way: you go to the Terrace on a nice day regardless if a band is playing or not, but no one hangs out at Club 770 when nothing is happening, unless of course you're studying for an exam. Sure, the acoustics at 770 aren't much to brag about, and you have to go downstairs to get a brew, but most of the shows are free and you are guaranteed to get a dedicated audience, not a whole lot of people there to enjoy the weather and the lakeshore.

The opening act had to cancel due to an illness, according to the student promoter from the WUD Music Committee. No matter, since Ted Leo agreed to come on a bit earlier and play an extended set. When he and his band took the stage to tune up and test the levels, the crowd kept cheering every time he checked the mic, despite his protestations that no encouragement was necessary. It didn't take too long. He opened with the first "single" off of Living With The Living, "Sons of Cain". This was available for download before the album's release, and I listened to its driving drums and melodic chorus over and over, tiding myself over for the whole album.

I'm a proud owner of all four of Leo's releases (and two tracks off of the Tell Balgeary Balgury is Dead EP). I even was privy to the limited edition Mo' Living EP that came along with the new album. So I knew every song in the set, which always makes a guy feel good. I even recognized the opening strains of Joe Strummer's "Johnny Appleseed" before he broke into "Timorous Me." That makes me a bona fide music snob. Such knowledge makes me reconsider my choice of careers: I could maybe even pull of the record store clerk, if I could only get the detached air of supreme coolness down.

I was enraptured by the entire show. I sang along with as many lyrics as I could, and I jumped up and down and shouted "Bomb.Repeat.Bomb" during the aforementioned song. If pressed, I would describe Leo's music as the logical next step for a punk-loving person such as myself. Leo himself is generally described as a punk rock veteran, and although upon first listen most wouldn't describe the style of music that he plays as straight-up punk, I see it as a different variant of the same political anger and unbridled enthusiasm for life, just with melody. My only regret of the night came at the merch table. I stood in line for what seemed an eternity just to come away empty-handed. There weren't any concert tees that caught my eye, and although E Eugene urged me to pick up a specialized poster I balked. Still, the memories in my head are souvenirs enough.