Street heat: Ted Leo, Pharmacists. Mike Miliard's camera wants to be infra-red when it grows up.
And the award for most seamless segue between opener and headliner goes to...
Ted Leo, bounding onstage at the Middle East on Sunday afternoon during Drew O’Doherty’s cover of “Dancing in the Dark” and shimmying for a few moments like Courteney Cox before picking up his Gibson hollow body and joining Doherty to close out the song.
It was a 2 p.m. all-ages show upstairs, but the crowd at this one was a little different from the rowdies who populated the hardcore matinees of Leo’s youth: here was a sold out room full mostly of tender-faced teens — one of whom got a 15th birthday shout-out from stage, another of whom clutched her shoulders and swooned in Beatlemaniac hysterics as Leo powered his way through solo versions of songs from ’03’s Hearts of Oak (“The High Party”), ‘04’s Shake the Sheets (“Bleeding Powers”), and a well-chosen cover (Ewan MacColl’s “Dirty Old Town”).
The show was billed as a solo gig, but just as Leo approached the stomping Irish-jig climax of “Timorous Me” (from ‘01’s The Tyranny of Distance) bassist Dave Lerner and drummer Chris Wilson — otherwise known as the Pharmacists — ambled on stage (augmented with O’Doherty, who was once a Pharmacist himself) to properly enable the song’s efflorescence.
The band had just come off tour, and Lerner and Wilson were under no obligation to play, but they made the trip to Cambridge from Philly and NYC respectively because there was a lot of new material to test out. No one knows exactly when the next Pharmacists record will be forthcoming (“What is this, fucking VH-1 Storytellers?” Leo joked when someone had the temerity to ask from the audience) but apparently the plan is to let it gestate properly while some ideas are fleshed out and some other songs are pulled from Leo’s bag of tricks. But if the material we heard Sunday afternoon is any indication, it’s gonna be a corker.
There was the towering, powerful “Some Beginner’s Mind,” a demo version of which has found its way onto the blogs in recent months. “Catch You On the Way Down” has some ska-like flashes (Specials, The English Beat) and was powered along by Lerner’s nimble Motown-esque bass lines. The metal epic “The Lost Brigade” was supercharged by Wilson’s martial drums. And while “Who You Love” was straight-up mod rock in the Jam/Kinks/Faces vein and “Colleen” reached back (as many Pharmacists songs do) to the meditative, muscular melodicism of Thin Lizzy, “Crying Over You” was a departure of sorts: a heavy, sped-up dub reggae, with Leo pealing sheets of effects-laden noise from his guitar.
With eight minutes before the trio was obliged to vacate the stage (at 5 p.m.) Leo promised to use up ever last one of ‘em. And, verily, he did, charging into the knotty noise workouts of “Stove By a Whale,” swimming in that churning brine for a good long while. When the last note faded, the fans yelled and cheered then stumbled out, blinking, into the late afternoon sunlight.