Tag Archives: Billy Bragg

cat_reviews

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists Close Out Tour Sunday in Williamsburg

December 11th, 2017

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – Music Hall of Williamsburg – December 10, 2017

(Photo: Mindy Tucker)

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

cat_reviews

Against Me! Thrill Packed Brooklyn Steel Crowd on Saturday Night

October 16th, 2017

Against Me! – Brooklyn Steel – October 14, 2017


For some, Against Me! are the only band that matters, while in other circles the group hasn’t mattered in more than a decade. In their early days, the Florida four-piece fused folk and punk in a way that put their sound somewhere in between Billy Bragg and Crass. Their 2002 debut, Against Me! Is Reinventing Axl Rose, was filled with scrappy sing-along tunes that promoted far-left politics and an infectious DIY charm that quickly won over the punk scene and influenced countless other acts. Then things began to change: Their 2007 album, New Wave, was a divisive sea change for the band as they jumped from indie label Fat Wreck Chords to the major label Sire Records. The LP paired them with famous producer Butch Vig, who helped them expand upon their sound and buff out the amateurish edge that seemed exciting and dangerous to many of their longtime loyal followers. But for those fans who turned their backs around that period, they have really missed out as Against Me! have come into their own in so many ways.

During that period, singer Laura Jane Grace (previously known as Tom Gabel) had begin to subtly hint in her lyrics that she was suffering from gender dysmorphia—and in the following years, she began to fully transition. This process fueled Grace to write the band’s masterpiece, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, so nakedly honest about her experiences while still rocking with more fury and passion than the band had displayed since their early days. During this time, the original rhythm section left and after some temporary substitutions, drummer Atom Willard and bassist Inge Johansson became permanent members. With these additions, Against Me! have become one the best live bands going. And after touring behind their newest album, Shape Shift with Me, for seven weeks, they brought their well-oiled machine to Brooklyn Steel on Saturday for a life-affirming night of rock and roll.

The room boiled over with a collective joy impossible not to notice as Against Me! blasted into Blues“True Trans Soul Rebel.” The mania in the crowd barely let up as the sea of fans bounced along in unison with crowd-surfers perpetually rolling overhead throughout the set. The band treated fans to a well-balanced mix of material from throughout their career, even busting out some deep cuts from the early days, like an especially heavy rendition of Axl Rose’s “Jordan’s First Choice.” One of the most surprising moments of the main set came as the quartet played a faithful rendition of Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream” that did the fallen Florida icon proud. Their encore also started with a cover as Grace played a solo rendition of the Mountain Goats classic “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton.” The song’s lines “When you punish a person for living his dream/ Don’t expect him to thank or forgive you” could act as a rallying cry for the resistance and Grace sang it with an intense purpose that sent chills down the spine. As the show came to an end, the band went out with a one-two punch of “Sink, Florida, Sink” and “We Laugh at Danger and Break All the Rules” that had fans singing the words long after the house lights had come on. —Pat King | @MrPatKing