What better day for Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
to perform in Portland, Oregon than on the day the United States' House of Representatives passed sweeping health care reform? A loyal and attentive crowd turned out early Sunday evening for the politically-conscious songwriter's second show in historically progressive Portland in two days. Sunday's show was an all-ages matinee, and the Doug Fir provided a safe welcoming environment for Leo's youngest fans, some of them carried in on their parents' shoulders.
A passing mention of health care reform was made when Leo quipped something to the effect that he knew what day it was because his health care fantasy bracket hadn't done so well, a clever tie in to another big news story over the weekend: March Madness, the NCAA's annual College Basketball Tournament. There were no long winded political diatribes from Leo, though, who most likely would have been speaking to the choir. Instead, Leo let his music, driving rhythms and major riffs coupled to both socially and emotionally honest lyrics, speak for itself
Performing material from both his latest album The Brutalist Bricks
and past releases, Leo and his band turned in a refreshing, roughly 70 minute set, that even included a real live act of egalitarian community building. Lest you think Leo was all talk and no action, he even invited an audience member to join the band for the obligatory cover of Kelly Clarkson's "Since You Been Gone,"
an exercise which ended up being a well intentioned but poorly-executed affair on all sides. You can credit the fan for her guts to get on stage, but blame her nerves once she was on it. The mishap even bled into the performance of the band's next song, when Leo had to cut everybody off because he had been about to start singing the Clarkson hit, instead of his own material.
Leo's own songs recall some of the best purveyors of punk, new wave and post-punk of the late '70s and '80s, and you can especially hear a distinctively British feel to things as well. Leo's singing falls somewhere between Robyn Hitchcock's knowing sneer and Elvis Costello's snarl
. It's no surprise, either, that in the latest issue of Spin
, one which has current up and comers meeting their idols—Matt Berringer of the National meets Frank Black, Britt Daniel meets Ray Davies—Leo is paired with the Jam's Paul Weller, as that was yet another touchstone you could hear spill into Leo's music from his record (perhaps even tape?) collection. In the Spin
piece Leo and Weller touch on, among other things, the fact that the radio's pretty much shit in both the U.K. and here in the U.S. The fact that you would probably be hard pressed to hear either Weller or Leo's greatest work on the airwaves today (even if you had forty monkeys tuned into forty radios for forty hours) is certainly testament to that. So when's THAT reform coming?
Photo by Shawn Brackbill