Once upon a time in the olden days of 1992, there was this Jawbreaker-y emo band from Indiana called Chisel that played a farm in my hometown of Danville, Kentucky.
This show, which honestly made no sense for my little town at all, only happened because they went to college with a couple guys whose dad was my pediatrician. The local opener—indeed, the only local band at all—featured my best friend on guitar, but we were, at the time, in an extended spat, so he didn’t tell me about the show. Or maybe he did and I stayed home pouting because I was a flaming ball of depression and world-heaving rage. Either way, I didn’t go see Ted Leo play in a field in the middle of nowhere, but I think somehow I still ended up with a copy of Chisel's first 7”.
Ted Leo has come a long way since such humble circumstances. Both solo and with his band the Pharmacists he’s amassed a big enough catalog to blast out a two-hour set that displays an encyclopedic array of influences. For my part, I get to hang out and write about cool rock and roll sometimes. But you know, sometimes I’m still that flaming ball of depression and world-heaving rage. And sometimes Ted’s still that teenaged pop punk kid who still loves a throbbing drum beat and the “power” part of “power pop,” who just seems happy to be playing a show, whether to a handful of people amidst hay bales and horseflies or a sold-out Triple Rock crowd.
For over 120 minutes Saturday night, Leo’s happiness was infectious, a weird contrast to the Midwest-suppressed but undeniable gloom hanging over Triple Rock employees and regulars as the venue swings into its final stretch. Listening to Leo is like listening to the history of power pop boiled down into one passionate Anglophile songwriter: He’s a little Nick Lowe and a spoonful of The Jam, he’s Joe Jackson’s best bangers and indulges the occasional English Beat. Still, playing live he’s unafraid to grab the brass ring of his punk roots, with pounding 4/4 drums smack in the center of everything.
Leo’s not only an erudite musician, he’s a consummate pro who knows how to captivate a room. His set pacing matched the skilled performance: Saturday night, Leo started high-energy and cranked things up a few notches before moving to his more mid-tempo, mellow repertoire, including a couple solo songs. That stretch of calm further pulled in the audience—even those who were mostly there to say they’ve been to a show at the Triple Rock. (I’ve never seen a crowd who as a whole seemed less familiar with their surroundings than Saturday night.) The last quarter of the set ramped everything back up for a high-energy final stretch that brought the audience’s hands clapping in the air, Leo on the monitors like the heroes of his East Coast hardcore youth with the verve of his Notre Dame priests, belting his songs with a subtle small-e evangelist energy that turned the venue into a revival, the entire crowd into a congregation.
Critic’s bias: For reasons I can’t entirely explain, I have never found much reason to go see Ted Leo live—maybe a holdover from that Chisel show I missed when I was a kid? I’m glad I corrected that at the Triple Rock in one of its final shows.
Notes on the openers: Brooklyn’s IAN SWEET (all caps, dammit!) are a talent bunch of hip-looking folk who make music that covers a huge range of dynamics, who can turn on a dime from twee indie-pop to screaming vocals and skronky sax, without writing a single song I enjoyed. Which means plenty of you might love them, and more power to you. I like my NYC a little less Williamsburg and a little more Long Island City.
The crowd: A weird mix of diehard Leo-lovin’ indie rockers and Triple Rock tourists who demanded an unreasonable amount of personal space for a sold-out show.
Random notebook dump: There’s something weird about the last days of the Rock Rock Rock—things are disappearing off the walls, food is running out, memorial T-shirts are getting passed across the bar almost as fast as drinks. But the booze is still plenty.
Overheard in the crowd: “I heard there’s people getting Triple Rock tattoos who haven’t been here yet.”
Moon Out Of Phase
Sons Of Cain
Mourning In America
Where Have All The Rudeboys Gone?
The Angels’ Share
The High Party
Used To Believe
The Little Smug Supper Club
You’re Like Me
Me and Mia
Parallel or Together?
Run To The City
William Weld In The 21st Century
Bottled In Cork
Under The Hedge
Let’s Stay On The Moon
It’s Alright, You’re O.K.