Friday Night: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists at the Glass House, Pomona; March 26, 2010.
Better Than: Whichever sad-but-true murder of the week profiled on Dateline that night.
Nearby Protest: Members of “Pomona Habla” brandished signs warning drivers of checkpoints all around downtown Pomona. (They weren't bluffing, there were a lot of cop cars out. Like, a lot.)
With a brand new album out earlier this month–The Brutalist Bricks, the band's debut on ever-acclaimed indie Matador Records–and a full-tilt promotional blitz, including a stop on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, you'd expect a fairly packed (glass) house for Ted Leo and the Pharmacists' stop in Pomona on Friday night. You'd also be sadly, terribly wrong.
The 800-capacity venue was less than half-full–it was barely even a third-full, really. When opener Sally Crewe & the Sudden Moves opened the show a bit after 8 to a nearly empty room, the mentality was, “OK, sure, maybe people are showing up late, maybe they didn't know the openers, maybe they didn't realize that shows here typically run early. It'll fill out.” But when it really didn't (on a Friday night! and tickets were only 14 bucks!), it was truly a bummer, because those theoretical concertgoers missed out on a heck of an actual concert.
Ted Leo himself is a captivating performer, with his high-pitched vocals ably delivering his verbose, inspiring tales of urban struggle in a live setting just as compellingly as on his band's six studio albums. That can be a pretty lame observation a lot of the time–“they sound just like the CD!”–but when lyrics come as fast-paced as they do in Brutalist Bricks track “Bottled In Cork” or signature tune “Me and Mia,” it really is a notable accomplishment.
And when he's not singing, he's still entertaining. As evidenced by his quirky choice of cover tunes (you might know his “Since U Been Gone”/”Maps” mash-up, but don't overlook his recent Tears for Fears tribute) and cemented by his frequent appearances on WFMU's Best Show, he's a pretty funny dude. After a fan screamed “I love you,” he quickly replied, “you don't know us well enough to say that.” After pondering whether to play a song requested by an audience member, another screamed “do it,” prompting a slightly under-the-weather Leo to say, “Do what? Blow my nose into this monogrammed handkerchief? Thank you, I will!”
The set featured the expected amount of material from the new album–“Bottled In Cork,” “Where Was My Brain,” “One Polaroid A Day,” “Gimme the Wire”–and a good chunk from Ted Leo + Pharmacists' last couple of records, 2007's Living with the Living (“Colleen,” “A Bottle of Buckie”) and 2004's Shake the Sheets (“Me and Mia,” “The One Who Got Us Out,” “Little Dawn”). There wasn't all that much else to it, because it wasn't all that long of a set–about 70 minutes including an encore, or what was essentially an encore (Leo didn't even really leave the stage, saying “fuck it” and doing “Timorous Me” from 2001's The Tyranny of Distance.
Openers Sally Crewe & the Sudden Move were a lot like Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, down to the structure of their band names (lead singer's proper name and the blanks). Offering a song about a car stereo, a lead singer with a British-y accent (their MySpace says they're from Austin–a mystery! Kind of!) and a drummer that looked like Eric Wareheim, it was a pleasant prelude to what was coming next, for those with the good judgment to show up and see it.