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Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
McCarren Pool
August 12, 2007


Written by Eric Atienza
Photographed by Elana Yakubov

Opposite Photo Ted Leo

Ted Leo

When arriving on time to shows these days, minutes after the doors open, it’s not uncommon to be greeted by a sparsely populated club with only small knots of people standing here or there. Indeed it would be a strange sight these days to find the full crowd in front of the stage as the first band starts to play. Many people opt to hang out at the bar for the first couple of bands and many more don’t arrive until later in the evening which generally results in a large surge to the front during the headliner’s first two songs. While it’s not unheard of to miss out on a quality up-and-coming act by doing this, it’s very common to be spared more than one lemon of an unentertaining, underdeveloped, uninspiring band. Anyone trying this gambit during Ted Leo and the Pharmacists’ stint at the McCarren Park Pool Parties, however, certainly missed out as they and both bands they brought with them proceeded to play one of the most solid and entertaining front to back shows of the summer.

First openers Birds of Avalon, who have been with Ted Leo on this entire tour, started with a brand of slow, spacey rock couched heavily in echo and reverb that is increasingly popular among mid-level (and mid-quality) indie rock bands. A few bars before becoming uninteresting though, they exploded into a set of full-force 70s-era hard rock. Their energy was wicked and raucous and for the first time in a very long time I feel fully justified writing the phrase: This band could totally shred.

Each solo (from each guitarist, the bass player and the drummer) was wild and blistering without becoming masturbatory – a hazard which plagues many groups in the genre. Flights of actual plastic wind-up birds joined the metaphorical waves of electricity pouring off the stage alongside some of the purest and unbridled rock music to hit the pool this summer.

The Thermals

The Thermals were next to take the stage, coming off of a sold out headlining gig in New Jersey. At first I wondered how they would possibly match the ridiculously energizing first set but soon enough I had my answer: they piled hook on top of hook on top of hook and just when the mountain of politically charged rhyme and pop began to teeter they drove the rhythm home on the force of a heavy backbeat. In a just world the Thermals – and not Fall Out Boy or any of their insubstantial, overproduced brethren – would be the face and final evolution of the last ten years of pop-punk. As it stands they will have to make due with the respect of their fans, critics, and I’m sure everyone who has ever seen them live.

While Birds of Avalon represented pure hard rock and the Thermals exemplified all that pop-punk should be Ted Leo and the Pharmacists took the stage and proceeded to unite both genres… and pretty much every other style ever described as rock music. Rockabilly, ska, straight-up punk rock and bits of reggae were all prominent during different parts of the set. Using these seemingly diverging pieces they built a sequence of truly infectious pop containing solid layers of solos, fills and rock steady chord progressions surrounding a sweet candy center of catchy choruses.

Dave Lerner of Ted Leo

James Canty of Ted Leo

Ted Leo has been a workhorse of underground music for most of the last decade and has always managed to stay relevant to the music scene while following his own ear as opposed to the latest trends. As a result he has, over the years, crafted a sound and image resembling only himself. Whether or not it mixes well with what is popular at the moment, he plays to the rhythm of his own guitar, is a true original, and always succeeds in getting us to tap our feet in time with him.

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