Photo by Matt OttoTED LEO AND THE PHARMACISTS
Chain Reaction, Anaheim
Wednesday, Nov. 3
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Fleshies played Huntington the very first night we started bombing, and they had a song for that: "There will be no apocalypse, but things will get worse." And Ted Leo's played a little Cassandra here and there, too—"He'll probably say something," someone says on the way in, and that's what you want because it's a day where you don't want to make eye contact on the street, or you do and nobody has much inside the stare: "Shitty Wednesday!" says a kid; "We've been eating shit for a long time," says Leo. "It's get-used-to-it Wednesday." But that wasn't the something; that was just some words between songs that were coming over like those old pirate stations, fury under static, concentration blown out into energy and air. They were obviously pouring it on, but it was just puddling up; they sounded best when the drummer would hit so hard he'd fuck up his changes, but sometimes he'd just fuck up the changes anyway. Leo's songs (the Jam wet down by '90s U.S. indie rock) are so self-consciously complex—carefully put-together but tangled up in their own originality, like he's writing around songs already written by Elvis Costello or Paul Weller or Billy Bragg. That could even be something admirable some nights, but now you'd keep waiting for that sensation of lift, and instead you'd feel momentum curling up on itself, intention in ricochet, Leo caught in a lyric 18 hours out of date: "It's all right/it's all right/it's all right/it's all right" and so on. You couldn't fault them: they played with a situation pinpoint sharp against their back, but they played like there was something sharp against their backs, too, and when Leo finally wiggled out from his guitar after a good 50-minute set—looked like moonlight coming through the stage door to turn him blue, but it was just an office fluorescent—he said, "Keep the pressure on. It's not over. It's never over." Which seemed so sad when the real lights came up and the floor looked so dirty. But not three minutes later, he pokes back in: "Oh, ye of little faith," he says, sliding into a grin, his palm reaching over the soft polish of the guitar, clapping the drummer on the back, asking the sound guy for two more songs with a cheerful authority that meant he'd get them. "Ballad of the Sin Eater" was just bass and drums till the last few curves, the guitar heeled onstage, Leo's skinny arms flapping great crazy shapes around his head; it hit a velocity—and ferocity—the rest of the set didn't quite get; it found a lyric that sounded like it was just born: "You didn't think they could hate you now, did you? But they hate you—they hate you 'cause you're guilty!" And then he went into one you could tell wasn't one of his; the chords were fast and simple, fluid and thick; Leo suddenly loose, bent in half, with the guitar cocked into a gunslinger's right angle on his thigh, bright in the relief from the lights. Shoulda known: "Don't believe it! Don't believe it! Don't be bitten twice! You gotta s-s-s-s-s-s-suspect device!" Lots of people knew it, and it felt good—felt like one of ours. (CZ)