TED LEO & THE PHARMACISTS with Waking Eyes at the Horseshoe, June 21. Tickets: $10. Attendance: 100. Rating: NNNN
When someone as good as Ted Leo plays Toronto on a Monday, it's a sure sign of a full-fledged tour. I mean, who in their right mind would want a Monday slot? That's the day people who have just blown their minds and their paycheques drag their asses out of bed to get back to the "real" world. When the sun sets, the gentle voice of couches citywide can be heard coaxing their owners to take a load off. As I wandered along Queen, a light drizzle turned to a minor deluge, only adding to my image of Ted Leo. Yeah, he's a New Yorker, but he looks like he's straight out of Manchester. Maybe it's the Fred Perry shirts, maybe it's the music. Maybe it's the resemblance to Damon Albarn, and maybe it's the soccer, er, football jerseys he and the Pharmacists are wearing on the cover of last year's excellent Hearts Of Oak album.
Not helping my geographical confusion were openers Waking Eyes . These Winnipeg boys played fast and loud, sounding like all your favourite English bands of yesterday and today, finishing their set with a brave cover of I Am The Walrus.
Leo took the stage with a big smile, waited for everyone to cram the front of the stage and broke into the sonic assault of Rude Boys. Elvis Costello meets Springsteen, Big Star meets Wire - whatever. Leo plays straight-up rock. No hype, no leather pants, no 20-minute guitar solos. Just super-sweet, melodious, concise pop gems devoid of pretense. There's a definite 70s FM rock sound to his music, but it's more like the Jam interpreting the works of Thin Lizzy than the Clash doing the Peter Frampton songbook.
Playing songs from the seminal tour de force that is Tyranny Of Distance may have gotten the biggest response from the crowd, but Ted wasn't afraid to pepper the set with brand new tunes. If the great Counting Down The Hours is any indication of things to come, Ted Leo & the Pharmacists may be going head to head with the likes of the White Stripes and the Strokes.
While the new tunes may not have been the exclamation point of the night, they served notice that great pop songs in the primal rock tradition are still alive and well. After Leo and the Pharmicists had said their goodbyes and the faithful had ventured out into the foogy night, I couldn't help wanting to throw on some CCR.