There was a rather workmanlike quality to the recent performance in Seattle by Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, but I don't mean that as a complaint. This wasn't a band going through the motions of a set, but rather a well-oiled machine that has been cranking out album after brilliant album and hundreds of stirring live sets since the band as we know it was set in motion in 2001.
And I think the band would take it as something of a compliment as Leo and his band mates have modeled both their aesthetic approach and their attitude about touring and recording on that of working class punk and rock bands from the UK and US, such as Crass, Thin Lizzy and The Misfits (the last getting a healthy shout out by the band's burning rendition of "Angelfuck").
To that end, the band took the stage with little fanfare and proceeded to crank out an hour and half set, rarely stopping to catch their collective breath or to let Leo blow his nose before laying into the next assault. And it was, well, what you would expect from the Pharmacists: solid, if sometimes hurried, takes on material from their back catalog (including the choice one-two punch of "Me And Mia" and "Where Have All The Rudeboys Gone?") and charged up takes on material from the group's latest full-length The Brutalist Bricks.
Because of the unrelenting charge of the band, it was those few moments when they took a breather - in tempo and attack - that ended up rising above the rest of the set. There was a simmering rendition of the midtempo track from Bricks, "One Polaroid A Day," as well as a pair of encore numbers featuring just Leo and his guitar. Both were covers - The Waterboys' "Fisherman Blues" and Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing In The Dark" - but combined with The Misfits cover from earlier in the set, it captured the essence of Leo's band better than any review could. Here is a band that loves rocking, romanticizes the working life and manages to tie in both political commentary and the struggles of the heart in a weary world. [ END ]