Ted Leo | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Free At Noon Flashback: Ted Leo brings The Pharmacists along for a revved up, reflective set
Things I was not expecting when arriving at work today: that it would be snowing by mid-day. That Jersey indie rock vet Ted Leo would have his longtime band The Pharmacists in tow for today’s Free at Noon set. That I would be screaming along to “Where Have All The Rude Boys Gone?” while attempting to shoot photos and not bump into the people around me too drastically. (Sorry, everyone.)
It’s true, Leo’s been on the road with this remarkable group of players — multi-instrumentalist James Canty, saxophone player and vocalist Adrienne Berry, drummer Chris Wilson, guitarist and singer Ralph Darden and bassist Marty Violence — since September, in support of his new record The Hanged Man. And the album is his first released under his own name, versus the standard “and the Pharmacists” credit…so the billing I read versus the performance I saw should not have totally caught me unawares.
Still, when I see “Ted Leo” and only that, I think solo man with a guitar, delivering gripping mod/punk/power-pop styled treatises on the ills of society and the means of bettering oneself — which, that’s absolutely engaging whenever I catch it. But seeing the full band, this band in particular, is at another level.
After opening with the unrelentingly pensive album opener “Moon Out Of Phase,” Leo and the Pharmacists leapt full-throttle into two immensely engaging jams from their back catalogue: “Sons of Cain” from 2007’s Living With The Living and the immortal and aforementioned “Rude Boys” from 2003’s Hearts of Oak. Pausing to tell folks they they were listening to 88.5 WXPN and backsell the set so far (XPN’s Helen Leicht later joked that he made a great guest announcer), he moved right from that to an incredibly catchy mediation on mortality and a changing world, his single “Can’t Go Back,” concluding an incredibly lively run of songs…and we were already at the halfway mark.
The rest of the set drew on The Hanged Man — which is totally fine, it’s a fantastic record — and Leo took a serious tone to unpack “William Weld In The 21st Century.” “This song’s about a lot of things, we’re not going to get into them all here at 12:15,” he told the crowd. “But let’s just say — and I fully recognize the irony of me standing here saying this — but one of the things its about is all of the space us cis white men take up in the world versus some of the space we could be creating instead.” It’s a scorching song that teeters between slow burner and full-on pure rage, and it connected powerfully. From there, “Anthems Of None” and “Run to the City” kicked the energy back to high, while the closing “Let’s Stay On the Moon” (the “second most depressing song I ever wrote,” per Leo) brought the main set to a reflective close.
The band didn’t go anywhere as Leicht outroed them, and for an off-air encore, they revved up the energy once more, catapulting to end a high note with “You’re Like Me.” Check out photos from the show and the setlist below; Leo opens for Aimee Mann at the Whitaker Center tomorrow night, and you can find more info on the show at the XPN Concert Calendar.
Moon Out Of Phase
Sons Of Cain
Where Have All The Rude Boys Gone?
Can’t Go Back
William Weld In The 21st Century
Anthems Of None
Run To The City
Let’s Stay On The Moon
You’re Like Me