Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – Music Hall of Williamsburg – December 10, 2017
Ted Leo has always fought the good fight. After grinding away in hardcore bands for years and then fronting the underrated Mod-revival band Chisel, his politically charged brand of folk meets punk (or the other way around) with his band, the Pharmacists, has always had a little more tenderness and grace than the rest of his peers. His records cover a lot of ground as his style owes as much to the brash angular sound of Revolution Summer–era Dischord Records as much as they do to both the Jam and Thin Lizzy. As a songwriter, Leo takes the same “the only road is the high road” approach as Billy Bragg, with lyrics that shed light on global injustice and as a plea for understanding in uncertain times. With the release of The Hanged Man, after a seven-year absence, Leo has covered new ground by turning his lyrics inward to wrestle with some of his own personal demons. The LP is his first proper solo album and finds him entering new musical territory that he may have never tried with a backing band written next to his name down the spine of the record.
He and the Pharmacists rolled into town for two packed nights at Music Hall of Williamsburg to treat fans to both new songs and classics from his long career. Hometown garage-rock heroes Big Huge opened the second show last night, electrifying frontman Dan Regelski making it his sole mission to shake the sleepy crowd out of their Sunday comas. The band released their debut album, Cruel World, on Don Giovanni Records over the summer and sounded as great as ever. Next time you see their name listed on a marquee, make sure to check them out.
For longtime fans of the Pharmacists, this current lineup is a little more special than previous iterations of the band. With the addition of keys, saxophone and a third guitar player, the band was able to pull off The Hanged Man’s rich layers as well as add more firepower to some of Leo’s older material. On the last night of their tour, Leo was as hilarious and charismatic as ever, taking sips from a Dixie cup of whiskey and telling stories in between songs. With one of the strongest catalogs in indie rock, Leo and Co. treated the crowd to a review of such old favorites as “Where Have all the Rude Boys Gone,” “Parallel or Together,” and “The Angels’ Share.” It was a marathon set that highlighted the best of what makes Leo such a hero in this tiny corner of the indie-rock world. For the encore, the Pharmacists left the stage for the beginning of the Tyranny of Dissonance classic “Timorous Me,” only to return to finish it with full-band force. The show closed with “Little Dawn,” from Shake the Sheets, which had fans still singing along following the band’s nearly two-and-a-half-hour set. It was a welcome return for Ted Leo and the Pharmacists and one that made you never want to take them for granted again. —Pat King | @MrPatKing