Back to my early days of serious music fandom, Ted Leo has been one of my enduring favorites. His catalog with The Pharmacists (and the criminally underrated Chisel before that) is overflowing with relentlessly catchy songs full of conviction and heart that struck me at age 14 as they still strike me now. My first proper (i.e. non-arena) concert was TL/Rx in a Western Massachusetts high school gym, supported by a then-unknown Titus Andronicus and a local act that I’m pretty sure had the word “leprechaun” in its name. And even if I don’t spin Shake the Sheets quite as often as I used to, the band’s got a special place in my heart.
Leo’s kept busy over the past few years as one-half of The Both with Aimee Mann and the occasional solo gig, but the Pharmacists’ absence since 2010’s The Brutalist Bricks has felt like a long one. At last, though, Leo is back this year with a “solo” record and a full band tour. The Hanged Man, self-released last month, is a dense and varied collection featuring some of Leo’s most personal writing – a departure in more than a few ways from the springy punk-inflected power pop that characterizes so many of his other records. But that’s no slight – Leo’s too good a songwriter to let a change-up turn into a misstep.
The Pharmacists – now expanded to a six-piece, as opposed to the traditional power-trio – brought the new songs and plenty of old ones to Brighton in an epic-length show last Sunday night. Over a freewheeling two-and-a-half hours, we got rockers, ballads and some songs in between, alongside Leo’s playful back-and-forth with the crowd. There was a selection of Ted solo numbers, too, and a tribute to Grant Hart (Hüsker Dü’s “She Floated Away”) on the very same stage where Hart played one of his final sets. The evening had something to offer for any sort of Ted Leo fan, and it’s difficult to imagine one leaving disappointed.
Check out photos from the evening, including an excellent solo set from Boston legend Thalia Zedek, below.