The iJamming! Weekly Download: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists
A few weeks ago, on a Thursday night, I wrote a post linking to Ted Leo’s solo cover of the Jam song ‘Ghosts,’ which I had found available for free download at his web site. The following morning, just before publishing that post, I went to check the URL and discovered, to my horror, that the site had been overhauled overnight, and most of the MP3s taken down with it. I had to scramble around for a different artist to keep with the weekly iJamming! download idea.
I didn’t want to give up on Ted Leo, though. After all, if iJamming!’s niche is that it’s an Anglo-American web site, then it’s my duty to keep plugging Ted Leo and his Pharmacists until he receives respect and admiration in the UK at least close to the level at which he enjoys it in his American homeland.
Because, really, what’s not to like? Ted is personable, political, romantic and erudite, a man who never lets his hefty ideals get in the way of a good song – although occasionally he does trip up over his lengthy lyrics. He’s an able guitar player with a distinct voice, but it’s not so much his individual components that make him attractive as the overall package – all of which explains why he’s earned comparisons over the years to British punk politicos like Strummer, Weller and Bragg.
There’s definitely something of the Anglophile about Ted Leo: his former band Chisel were often described as American mods, and one of his greatest songs is the 2Tone-specific ‘Where Have All The Rude Boys Gone?’ But his roots are equally in American hardcore: he earned his spurs in the flourishing scene of D.C. and New York, his new album Living With The Living is produced by Fugazi’s Brendan Canty, and in concert, he and his Pharmacists – bassist Dave Lerner and drummer Chris Wilson – frequently recall the adrenalin rush of another great American trio, Hüsker Dü.
You can hear all these attributes and influences for yourself courtesy of a live show that turned up this past week on my iPod as part of KEXP’s Live Performances Podcasts. In front of an invited audience at the Triple Door in Seattle, Leo and co. powered through ten songs in forty minutes. Most are, understandably enough, from the new album, a heavily politicized record that still is not so dogmatic in song as it looks in titles like ‘Bomb.Repeat.Bomb.’ and ‘C.I.A.’ )My favorite new numbers come in the middle: ‘Colleen,’ the nearest Living comes to a pop song (you can hear the studio version here), and ‘The Unwanted Things,’ an uptempo reggae number of the kind that most white American bands simply can’t pull off – and which he then wisely pulls off with the aforementioned highlight ‘Where Have all The Rude Boys Gone?’
Also in the set is ‘Me and Mia,’ a song that gathered such serious American street buzz two years ago it almost catapulted Leo into the mainstream. Almost. For now, however, Leo remains a cult, and maybe he’s happier that way: though he jumped record labels for Living With The Living, his fifth album does not reveal any great commercial or musical leap forward over the other four. Oh well. This brings the focus back to the live show. Leo is touring the UK this June and July: the KEXP Podcast gives you an idea of what to expect, but only a hint as to the show’s true intensity. And you should know that Leo usually closes out his sets with cover versions – so shout loudly enough, and you might just hear that beautiful rendition of ‘Ghosts,’ after all.