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Live Review / Photos: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists @ First Unitarian Church Basement (2009.12.02)

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists @ First Unitarian Church

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MP3: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists – Even Heroes Have To Die from the upcoming album The Brutalist Bricks (2010)

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists have been a staple food in my musical diet for a long time.  His shows are always uplifting, riotously fun affairs jam-packed with killer guitar, resonant lyrics, and an air-tight band.  Whenever he comes into DC (his one-time residence, and essentially second home), he always packs the 9:30 Club or the Black Cat (as he did this past Thursday) to capacity.  I decided to change things up a bit for his recent string of East Coast dates, and made the drive to Philly to catch him last Wednesday at First Unitarian. I’ve been to shows at First Unitarian Church’s Sanctuary before, and was curious to see Ted in a different setting than a standard rock venue.

Odd fate struck when I walked down Chestnut, as I was diverted to the basement for the true DIY cred of a church basement show. Much like the VFW hall centered scenes that dot the suburbs of this country, church basements are a furnace of activity for the underaged showgoer that are blackballed by 18+ and 21+ traditional venues.

As it turns out, this choice of venue over the sanctuary was an inspired one. The crowded, modestly appointed interior perfectly channeled Ted Leo’s exacting DIY ethos and the energy of his effervescent pop punk. Instead of that blockbuster, celebrity rockstar vibe you can get when Ted plays one of the aforementioned venues, you get an altogether different experience, something truer to his spirit and roots.  What’s more, for those of us who still remember youthful adventures in such spaces, Leo’s more sage and introspective repertoire brought on a wave of acute nostalgia, and even that increasingly derided feeling: hope.

In this way, Ted Leo will always be an oasis in relatively bleak times. A unusually apolitical show (particularly after the official escalation of war in Afghanistan), Ted paused only once to acknowledge the state of current affairs as less than desirable. But he followed quickly with an affirmation of purpose: “But let’s not talk about that tonight. Instead, I’ll just continue writing, and singing, songs about it.” I can think of few other callings that could be more important, more rewarding, more necessary.

More photos after the jump.


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