Another Friday show at the Variety Playhouse. This time it was Ted Leo and the Pharmacists with Baltimore's The Oranges Band and Birds of Avalon out of Raleigh, NC. We also ran into a traveling pack of regulars from The Usual: my erstwhile dartner, the lust list bartender, and the badminton boys among others. I'd say the consensus was that all of us enjoyed the show... mostly (more on that in the next paragraph so read on).
We arrived about halfway through the Birds of Avalon's set. I can't say I enjoyed it too much, so I won't. It sounded like some weird amalgam of southern rock and Led Zeppelin: dueling guitars, pompous vocals, and driving drums (and the occassional harmonica). Trust me on this. It didn't work for me, sending me scurrying out for a cigarette and another beer much earlier than would normally would happen.
Thankfully, The Oranges Band played in a genre a lot more similar to Ted Leo's, if a bit moodier at times. At the beginning of the set, there was a bit of a problem picking out the lead singer's vocals, but they became clearer throughout the show. They've made some of their songs available on their website: Around the Track and nextstopexjock from The Five Dollars EP; and All the Ghosts in Your House from Nine Hundred Miles of Fucking Hell, as well as some live tracks (check the music section of their website for these).
Ted Leo and the Pharmacists then took the stage as many of the large crowd streamed to get as close to the stage as possible. After making a couple of apologies about the state of his voice and the wound on the drummer's hand, they ripped right into their set (the voice and wound didn't seem to make any difference at all). When I say ripped, I mean ripped--hard, fast, and tight. All their songs seem to be played a little bit faster than their studio equivalents.
Ted Leo was very active, and if you didn't know he used to front a punk band, his mannerisms would easily have given it away. They played most of the songs from their latest album, as well as some from the back catalog. Perhaps my favorite part of the night was the beginning of the encore when Ted himself (without backup) covered Dirty Old Town by the Pogues. He played two songs like this, and they really had a Billy Bragg vibe in a good way.
The verdict. After a questionable first band of the evening, a great show.
Ted Leo has made some mp3s are availabe for download in the audio section of his website, though the quality isn't always that great. Some of his newer songs are available at Hug Robot Radio, an mp3 blog run by Scott, formerly of Jersey Shore, et al.
NP: "War Begun" by My Morning Jacket.