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Monday, June 28th, 2010

The Brutalist Bricks

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists and Screaming Females at Lee’s Palace in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangUnderstatement? This has been a very fucked weekend in Toronto. From the moment it was announced late last year that downtown Toronto would host the G20 summit of world leaders this last weekend in June, it has been an inevitability that things would turn out this way – an overwhelming police presence on city streets to greet masses of protesters and demonstrators who acted as camouflage for small groups of so-called anarchists set on turning things violent and wreaking mayhem – all while the world leaders met behind massive fences, oblivious to the tumult outside, and ultimately accomplishing nothing besides agreeing to maybe talk further about the same issues the next time they got together. In other words, the exact same script that has played out at every one of these summits over the last ten years, and with people feigning surprise and outrage whenever any of the above occurs (although the complete lack of leadership and accountability from every level of government and authority this weekend felt new – maybe the Toronto summit decided to allow some ad-libbing?).

Though out of town most of Saturday, I returned to find my neighbourhood had become a mess of smashed glass and boarded-up windows and though the flash points had moved elsewhere, the atmosphere was still extremely tense and discomfiting. Though staying home with the blinds drawn also seemed like a good course of action, a better option was available in heading out to Lee’s Palace where Ted Leo & The Pharmacists had the fortunate timing of playing that night. Or maybe unfortunate, considering that transit shutdowns and road closures made getting around the city difficult and the general advice seemed to be to stay home. Either way, the show was still on and while I might have otherwise liked a distraction from from everything going on in my city, I was curious to hear what Leo had to say. And get rocked.

There wasn’t a need to wait for the headliner for that, though, thanks to tourmates Screaming Females. Their name was a bit of a misnomer as of the trio, only frontwoman Marissa Paternoster was lacking a Y-chromosome but they made up for that bit of false advertising by delivering on the screaming part. Not literally, as in lung-shredding hollers though there was a bit of that, but their combination of classic rock riffage and new wave stutter was pretty impressive and Paternoster’s intensely awkward stage presence kind of entertaining. Their audience wasn’t especially sizeable, but it was appreciative.

“I know this is kind of a weird night”, Ted Leo said a little into their set, “but hopefully we can offer some catharsis”. This was as much comment on world politics as he offered at first, though he was more than willing to get into the state of the World Cup (sorry to see USA go but was fully behind Ghana). Instead, he let his set list do the talking – I don’t know what other cities had been getting, but for Toronto on this most particular of evenings, he and the Pharmacists delivered rocker after rocker, piledriving the fastest numbers and speeding up the others to terminal velocity, all delivered as such a punishing volume that Leo’s vocals were occasionally inaudible under the din. While he’s been touring as a four-piece for some time – they were still a power trio when I first started seeing them – this year’s Brutalist Bricks was the first written and recorded as such, and the new material which comprised the lion’s share of the set really benefitted from the extra complexity and power of James Canty’s second guitar. From the word go, there was no let up in the show’s energy save for when Leo stopped to converse with the crowd a bit, which had filled up nicely though not nearly to capacity, and crack a joke or two.

It was during one of these breaks later on that he finally said he felt obliged to comment on the G20 happenings, and after a bit of back and forth with a patron who wanted more rock, less talk, he basically left it by saying that every one of the songs he would play this night was written in the past ten years and under the shadow of corporate globalization. And that’s probably all that needed to be said; anyone who’s listened to his music, which I think would be everyone there, would know where his ideology lies and implicitly what his stance would be on summits like this and the protests that’d ensue. I’m not sure what I had expected. Maybe some sort of explanation or rationale for what was happening in my city or why it was necessary – and to his credit Leo offered as such but warned it would take “like nine hours” – but that’s unfair. This wasn’t a lecture hall but a rock show – and not a Billy Bragg rock show – and on that count, Leo had more than delivered what was expected. An excuse to pogo during “Me & Mia”, a stellar solo cover of Nick Lowe’s “So It Goes”, a glorious “Timourous Me” and – after handing over his guitar to Canty who broke a string on his – closed the show out with a bloodletting (literally) “Ballad Of The Sin Eater”. Ted Leo has never put on a bad show, but this one reached a new level of intensity and yes, as promised, catharsis that I thank him for and hope is never necessary again.

Photos: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, Screaming Females @ Lee’s Palace – June 26, 2010
MP3: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “Bottled In Cork”
MP3: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “The Mighty Sparrow”
MP3: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “Even Heroes Have To Die”
MP3: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “Bomb Repeat Bomb (1954)”
MP3: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “The Sons Of Cain”
MP3: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “Me & Mia”
MP3: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “Where Have All The Rude Boys Gone?”
MP3: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “Squeaky Fingers”
MP3: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “Under The Hedge”
MP3: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “Come Baby Come”
MP3: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “Under The Hedge” (Treble In Trouble)
MP3: Screaming Females – “Arm Over Arm”
MP3: Screaming Females – “I Do”
Video: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “The Mighty Sparrow”
Video: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “Colleen”
Video: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “Bomb. Repeat. Bomb.”
Video: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “Me & Mia”
Video: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “Where Have All The Rude Boys Gone?”
Video: Screaming Females – “Buried In The Nude”
Video: Screaming Females – “Bell”
Video: Screaming Females – “Boyfriend”
Video: Screaming Females – “Electric Pilgrim”
MySpace: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists
MySpace: Screaming Females

The National’s Matt Berninger tells Spinner about the time his luggage created a terrorist scare at an airport. Hi-larious.

Pernice Brothers have released a blockbuster, high-budget video from Goodbye, Killer. He’s taking over the editorial reins at Magnet this week, and they kick it off with a Q&A.

Video: Pernice Brothers – “Jacqueline Susann”

Daytrotter has posted a session with Venice Is Sinking.

David Dondero has set a July 23 at the Drake Underground in support of his new record Zero With A Bullet, due out August 3.

MP3: David Dondero – “Wherever You Go”

Nada Surf has recorded a video session for They Shoot Music.

Of Montreal’s new record False Priest will be out September 14, and the first MP3 is now available to download.

MP3: Of Montreal – “Coquet Coquette”

PitchforkTV serves up a TunnelVision session with The Depreciation Guild.

The Quietus has an exit interview with James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem.

And if this past weekend has utterly drained you as well, stock up on some good karma by chipping in and helping this puppy frolic again.

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

"The Ballad Of El Goodo"

Ted Leo covers Big Star

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangNXNE has quite thoroughly kicked my ass, so you’ll forgive me if this week’s selection falls under the category of quick and easy. But hopefully still satisfactory.

And why wouldn’t it be? There are few better go-to guys for covers than Ted Leo, who seemingly hasn’t met a song from any genre that he’s not prepared to take a swing at if it’s a good tune. And there are few bands who’ve wrote more good/great songs that have been – and deserve to be – covered ad infinitum than Big Star. So Ted Leo – solo and acoustic and Pharmacist-free – offering a tender rendition of one of Alex Chilton’s best-loved compositions, sometime circa 2006? Made of win, as the kids say.

Ted tours his newest album The Brutalist Bricks through Toronto this Saturday for a show at Lee’s Palace. Big Star’s Alex Chilton passed away in March and the world remains a colder place for his absence.

MP3: Ted Leo – “The Ballad Of El Goodo”
Video: Big Star – “The Ballad Of El Goodo” (live)

Monday, March 8th, 2010

Gimme The Wire

Review of Ted Leo & The Pharmacists’ The Brutalist Bricks

Photo By Matias CorralMatias CorralIt gives me great comfort to live in a world where Ted Leo & The Pharmacists continue to put out records. When it comes to marrying punk fury with pop hooks and striking the right balance of lyrical cynicism and optimism, all served with a good dose of humour and via a relentless work ethic, there’s few better or more consistent. With the release of his newest record The Brutalist Bricks tomorrow, he cements that opinion even further into fact.

Like pretty much everything Leo has ever put out, Bricks is loud, punchy and pogo-friendly with a couple moments of acoustic thoughtfulness to punctuate proceedings, but within the frame of reference of his discography, it stands apart for a couple reasons. His last effort, 2007’s Living With The Living, was a sprawling effort both in length and stylistic forays and while you hate to suggest that ambition or experimentation are bad things, it didn’t have the impact or staying power as his prior works. And whether the follow-up is a reaction to that or not, Bricks is both tighter-sounding and more focused and possibly Leo’s most outright rocking effort since 2003’s Hearts Of Oak. It’s a comparison which makes it worth noting that Bricks is the first record to be recorded as a four-piece since Hearts, though once-and-again Pharmacist James Canty’s guitar is a decidedly more in-your-face presence on the new album than Dorien Garry’s keys ever were.

Stepping back to regain perspective, Bricks nestles quite comfortably alongside its fellows – if you were to randomly grab a Ted Leo record to spin and came up with this one, you wouldn’t be at all disappointed. It also won’t likely be anyone’s long-term go-to Pharmacists record – all in all, Hearts Of Oak and The Tyranny Of Distance remain his finest moments – but as a reminder that the world is a better place with Ted Leo in it and making music, it does quite nicely.

The Brutalist Bricks is streaming in its entirety over at Ted Leo’s MySpace and Spinner just posted an Interface video session with the band.

MP3: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “The Mighty Sparrow”
MP3: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “Even Heroes Have To Die”
Stream: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists / The Brutalist Bricks
MySpace: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists

Annie Clark of St. Vincent tells Spinner about her contributions to Together, the new New Pornographers record, due out May 4.

Eater talks about the joys of being full of stomach with The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart.

Headlights have released a new video from Wilderness

Video: Headlights – “Secrets”

Black Book talks to Zooey Deschanel and Matt Ward of She & Him, who will release Volume 2 on March 23.

The Independent profiles Joanna Newsom, in town at the Phoenix this coming Saturday night, March 13.

Spinner talks to Ume about gearing up for this year’s SxSW.

If you, like me, are going to miss all three of Dan Mangan’s upcoming shows at Canadian Musicfest this week – Thursday night at The Great Hall, Friday night at The Courthouse and Saturday’s in-store at Criminal Records – take heart: he’s already scheduled a return engagement for April 22 at the Horseshoe, tickets $12.

MP3: Dan Mangan – “Road Regrets”

Aussies An Horse are looking to make my first post of the year even more correct, having scheduled another Toronto show for April 26 at The Garrison. They’ll release Beds Rearranged, a remix EP of last year’s Rearrange Beds, on March 23.

MP3: An Horse – “Postcards”

Caribou have announced a massive world tour to go along with the April 20 release of Swim. Toronto can catch them on May 3 at The Phoenix.

Video: Caribou – “Odessa”

Vancouver disco duo Fan Death will bring their debut EP A Coin For The Well to Wrongbar on May 21.

MP3: Fan Death – “Cannibal”

PopMatters pays tribute to the late Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse while Blurt reprints an interview with him regarding the Dark Night Of The Soul project, which will finally see an official release this Summer. Hopefully the almost-completed last Sparklehorse record will eventually see the light of day as well. So immensely saddened by Linkous’ untimely passing.

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

"Dancing In The Dark"

Ted Leo covers Bruce Springsteen

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangFrequently when picking covers for the week, I like to choose unexpected combinations of artists and tunes that might reveal heretofore hidden influences or depths of meaning. And sometimes, it’s just so obvious that you can’t NOT go with it. This is one of those times.

Ted Leo and Bruce Springsteen – both proud sons of New Jersey (okay Ted was born in Indiana but he grew up in the Garden State) and both amongst the hardest working – and maybe sweatiest – men in rock. Leo is a legend in indie rock circles, Springsteen a legend pretty much everywhere. So that a Boss cover or two is a regular occurrence in Leo’s live repertoire is not much of a surprise. Here’s a double-shot of Leo doing one of Springsteen’s most famous tunes which, as he succinctly puts it in the live solo recording from Pontiac, Michigan in December 2008, “needs to be rescued from its production values”. The second version is a live solo acoustic take from an indeterminate time or place.

Leo’s new album The Brutalist Bricks is out next week. Springsteen released Working On A Dream last year and is, amazingly, not currently on the road.

MP3: Ted Leo – “Dancing In The Dark” (live in Pontiac, MI)
MP3: Ted Leo – “Dancing In The Dark” (acoustic)
Video: Bruce Springsteen – “Dancing In The Dark”

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

"Cruel To Be Kind"

Letters To Cleo cover Nick Lowe

Image via WikipediaWikipediaFolks of a certain age got an unexpected thrill this past Thursday night when on Parks & Recreation – assuming they were home watching television (or torrenting it for later) – Adam Scott showed up on their screens wearing a Letters To Cleo t-shirt. LTC were never amongst the A-list of the ’90s college rock scene, or even the ’90s Boston college rock scene, but they held a special place in the hearts of fans of scrappy power pop and to see them getting name-checked out of the blue over a decade after packing it in brought on some warm waves of nostalgia.

A wave which has carried me through their back catalog this weekend – 1997’s Go! remains a personal favourite – and to this week’s selection, which may have represented the band’s commercial peak as it appeared on the soundtrack of the 1999 film 10 Things I Hate About You, which retold The Taming Of The Shrew in modern terms while introducing North America to the charisma of Heath Ledger, the world to the curious woodenness of Julia Stiles, and somehow spawning a television adaptation almost a decade later (which failed badly). Their reading of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me” was probably the best known of their four contributions to the soundtrack but I always liked their take on Nick Lowe’s classic single better; it originally appeared on his 1979 album Labour Of Lust, which was rereleased in shiny remastered form last Spring.

Co.Create has a piece on how the Parks & Rec placement came about; you can buy the Adam Scott-endorsed t-shirt over here.

MP3: Letters To Cleo – “Cruel To Be Kind”
Video: Nick Lowe – “Cruel To Be Kind”