May 1, 2008

Slope Day Preview: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists

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My, oh my, Ted, look at your progress in the last decade: From your punky, Fugazi-inspired days on the streets of DC to touring small clubs and recording incessantly to finally opening up for Slope Day 2008, you’ve come a long way, baby!
And the man deserves every bit of praise and respect he earns: Ted Leo and his troupe of balladeers (a.k.a. the ever-shifting line-up of the Pharmacists) are relentless … really. When they’re not touring, they’re seemingly always recording a new album, or else honing their sound to become better, fitter, faster and generally stronger. The result is highly melodic, literate, witty, genre-crushing post-punk.
Ted began recording under his own moniker after his band, Chisel, broke up in the late-’90s. Upon the release of a solo EP of moderate independent acclaim, he enlisted the help of a few friends (nicknamed The Pharmacists) to record his first LP, The Tyranny of Distance. This album helped set the tone of his musical career henceforth.
While many songs highlighted churning guitars of a Celtic folk-influence (“Timorous Me”), others sported intricately bombastic drum patterns (“Dial Up”). Still others used well-read, heartfelt lyrics like those in “Biomusicology” to bolster the track. In all, the record takes obvious cues from mid-’80s punk and mid-’70s rock, but bends these genres in such a way to make a sound distinctly his own.
This sound resonates and echoes in later albums, especially in the follow-up LP, Hearts of Oak. Notably, he took inspiration from the tragedy of 9/11 and its aftermath to inform this record’s content.
And the past decade has certainly provided enough fodder for Ted to keep writing political records, hasn’t it? In 2003, he released his third LP, Shake the Sheets, in which songs like “Counting Down the Hours” directly reference the Iraq invasion and subsequent war.
So it’s no surprise, really, that on his latest effort, Living with the Living, Ted and his apothecaries beat the political drum again. Despite his social commentary, however, don’t think that he’s gained a heavier sound over the years: The Ted you hear on the new album is essentially the same Ted from eight years ago, but now with a little more experience and finesse.
What luck for us, then, that Ted Leo and the Pharmacists will be opening up for the headlining bands of the day. Think of him and his band, if you will, as the delightful apertif to the headier ska/emo/post-hardcore/rap bouquet of Hot Hot Heat and Gym Class Heroes.
Take a break from your rigorous drinking schedule to venture to the Slope to see TL/Rx live in action; with consistently high-energy performances, he’s one opening band you surely won’t regret seeing. And did I also mention he plays a really great “Since U Been Gone/Maps” medley? No? Well, shiiiiit — don’t take my word for it! Be there in person and break out your own falsetto Kelly Clarkson along with him.

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists are scheduled to kick off the Slope Day festivities at 1:30 p.m. tomorrow afternoon.