Monday, March 25, 2013

Review: Ted Leo (solo) at Backspace 3/23/13 - On Ten Years of Ted

...and what do you make of the nights
when you thought you'd make much more
than being too tired to turn the lights out
and too drunk to drink more?
and what does it take to not hear the cynics at your door saying
"it's time the turn the lights out, and you'll want to keep it down!"

"The High Party" - Ted Leo

Sometime during the first third of Ted's set he laid down a killer transition between an inventive solo cover of "Goodbye Blue Sky" by Pink Floyd and the intro to "The High Party", a classic track of his second record Hearts of Oak. As I felt myself vibrate to the familiar riff it dawned on me that the first time I heard this song live was nearly ten years ago at the now defunct Meow Meow club. I couldn't help but notice the symmetry between these two events, with both shows being solo performances and both being almost exactly ten years apart. I had bought tickets to that first show a week after seeing Ted perform on Conan O'Brien. 

I just watched that video for the first time in ten years and I can feel the same exhilarating rush that the 18 year old me felt that late winter evening. If you're a serious music fan there are few things that can compare to discovering a new act that really resonates with you.

I was just talking with a friend about the role that Bruce Springsteen has played in my life, in so many ways he's the closest thing to a father figure that I've had. If you can accept that analogy (a tall order, granted) then consider Ted Leo as an avuncular presence in my life. Imagine if your dad had a younger, cooler brother. I started listening to Ted Leo when I was 18 years old, still verymuch obsessed with 90's grunge and a lot of other terrible music. Records like Hearts of Oak and Tyranny of Distance became a gateway to Guided By Voices, Superchunk and so much of the music that inspires me today. 

Saturday night was my 2nd time watching Ted play a solo set, my 13th Ted Leo show in total. A solo Ted Leo set is a special thing, hardly as jubilant as a full band show, but just as worthwhile. His performances of songs I had seen performed with a band on numerous occasions like "Bottled In Cork", "Me and Mia" and "Timorous Me" were given more life in stripped down, subtle arrangements that really brought out the strength of his songwriting. "Timorous Me" in particular has become one of my absolute favorite songs in past years. In particular the notion of "something that should have began just passed us by" is extremely moving for someone like me in their late twenties, taking stock of their life. 

(I should also take this opportunity thank Ted for introducing me to The Best Show on WFMU, one of my favorite things on this planet)

By the end of "Timorous Me" we were all clapping in rhythm, elated.

Most exciting though, were the new songs that Ted played on Saturday night. I had heard one of them before, "The Little Smug Supper Club" but hearing it live was an incredible experience.

I wasn't able to catch the name of the other tunes, but was delighted to hear each of them live for the first time. One of them had a real sentimental wistfulness to it, with a chorus featuring Ted crooning something like "Ooh Baby, you aren't the only one" in repetition. Ted played the entire show with a single guitar and his tone was excellent throughout the entire evening. I was often struck by how much Ted has grown as a guitar player and a showman since the first time I saw him. He would seamlessly switch between playing riffs and solo parts and seems to only get more hilarious in his interactions with the audience. Saturday night it was with a member of the crowd who, for whatever reason was dying to hear a solo performance of the Tyranny track "Stove By a Whale", a track that as Ted tried to explain, is fairly reliant on a strong rhythm section. Towards the end of the set, Ted relented and started playing the intro riff, only to hilariously pull the plug once he noticed this same crowd member laughing at him. It was like the live version of a needle being pulled off a record.

I took my buddy Mario along for the ride, who had never even listened to Ted Leo. The penultimate song ended up being a cover of "Outdoor Miner" by his favorite band, Wire. If nothing else, I think Ted may have won himself another fan that evening. It was really a special evening and made me excited for the new projects Ted has coming out and, of course, the likely event of me getting to see him play live again....for the 14th time. 

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