It didn't take long for Ted Leo to work up a sweat Thursday night on the low-ceilinged stage at Union South. By the end of a jam-heavy second number, sweat streamed down his face and dripped off his nose.
While not quite as visual as the stream of blood that covered his face after he bashed himself in the forehead with the microphone at the Pitchfork Music Festival last summer, it still proved he was there to play.
Of course when playing a festival, one is almost expected to go a little over the top to get the audience's attention. Playing in the cozy confines of the Union's cafeteria-by-day, venue-by-night Club 770, Leo and the always-solid Pharmacists (James Canty, guitar; Dave Lerner, bass; and Chris Wilson, drums) had our attention immediately.
The torrid 90-minute set Leo and the Pharmacists put on for a good-sized, mostly college-aged crowd had the kids going crazy. Girls danced with abandon, while the boys sang along and yelled out requests.
Too bad Leo wasn't having any of the latter, "I hear you," he assured them, "but believe it or not, we have a set list that actually took some effort to create." He did eventually honor an appeal for Curtis Mayfield's "Keep On Pushing," played solo as the first song of a terrific encore that genuinely did leave us wanting more.
However, the guy who wanted to hear Leo cover the Kelly Clarkson hit "Since U Been Gone" (which, surprisingly, he has been known to do) was destined to leave unfulfilled. "Who yelled for Kelly Clarkson?" Leo asked, 'Yell for it again," he requested, only to interrupt immediately with a determined, "No!"
Leo's catchier songs like "Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?" and "Walkin' to Do," get their addictive propulsion from a Thin Lizzy "Boys Are Back in Town" style guitar line and his willingness to utilize the falsetto. The latter skill was displayed especially well on the live favorite "Crying Over You," a freewheeling reggae number that Leo nonetheless described as a "momentum killer."
Truth is, I don't think anything could have slowed him down tonight
Too bad the same couldn't be said for scheduled opener Love of Diagrams. Antonia Selbach, lead singer of the Australian trio, had become ill earlier in the day, and they had to cancel their set at the last minute, quietly removing their equipment from the stage. The Union Directorate offered refunds to anyone who didn't want to stay, but I'm pretty sure no one took them up on it.
More comments about the concert, along with a video clip of Leo performing "Biomusicology" from The Tyranny of Distance, is provided here by Craig Droessler.