Interview: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists

Perennially under-the-radar indie rockers play G Spot

  • Ted Leo performs Tuesday at the G-Spot.
Ted Leo performs Tuesday at the G-Spot. (Shawn Brackbill, Handout…)
December 02, 2010|By Erik Maza, The Baltimore Sun

When Ted Leo and the Pharmacists comes to Baltimore, the band usually performs at the Ottobar. They have performed there so often, some of the band members even know the bartenders by name.

"Its one of my favorite places in the country to play," said Leo, who knows his venues; the band does on average 200 gigs a year.

But on Tuesday, when the four-piece group swings by Baltimore, it won't be performing at the Charles Village hangout. Instead, they'll perform at the Gspot on the outskirts of Hampden. It's a fitting move for a band that lately, after a momentum-undermining album three years ago, has been in the mood to hit the reset button.

"It's one of those things," he said. "Maybe there's a change of scenery we could experience."

Since their start at the end of the 1990s, the band has been on quite a streak, releasing album after album of spitfire punk. With singles like "Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?" Leo and company managed to sound both defiant and exuberant.

But then the band released 2007's "Living with the Living," an album that was more political than usual, and that was more interested in making statements than delivering hooks. The song "Bomb. Repeat. Bomb." was as overbearing as it sounds, and others, like "The Unwanted Things," were too dense for their own good, often relying on too-long choruses.

Said drummer Chris Wilson: "'Living with the Living' was sprawling. It was a bit too much for some people."

But the new album, "The Brutalist Bricks," the group's first for Matador Records, finds the band members in more energetic territory, ready, as Wilson said, "to shake the sheets."

It's impetuous — see "Bottled in Cork" — where "Living With the Living" was overwrought. That sound, aside from being a fruitful place for the band, is as much an attitude as a result of the music-making process. When asked how the album came together, Leo confirmed that it was done on the fly.

Because of the band's breakneck touring schedule, that's normally how things have to be done.

Band members first demo-ed about half the album, Wilson said, then went on tour; after a year, it returned to the studio to finish the album. The result is a patchwork that includes material that's been marinating for a couple of years — like "Gimme the Wire" and "Where Was My Brain?" — to very recent output, like the furious "Bottled in Cork," the newest song.

For Leo, the less-analyzed the song, the better it's likely to be.

"I feel confident that I have yet to write my best work," he said. "While that may include revisiting and revising things from the past, I doubt that I have anything in my trunk that is going to be better straight out of the trunk than anything else."

On Tuesday, the band — which also includes James Canty on guitar and Marty Key on bass — will play a set of some 20 songs that will attempt to cover its vast catalog.

Leo said the main difference between the Gspot and the Ottobar is that one is more "a space" and the other more of a traditional, darker rock club.

"I don't think it changes how we would approach the show, though it is nice to see more of people's faces," he said.

Whether it's the Gspot or Ottobar, Baltimore remains on the schedule for a different reason.

"It's the crowds. It's always a welcoming place," Leo said. "That's why it remains pretty solidly on our must-do-at-least-once-a-year list."

For local fans, it should be a memorable show. In July, Leo wrote a post on his official website saying that he's not retiring, but that by next year, the relentless touring will begin to be scaled back.

"It simply can't go on like this forever," he wrote. "Pretty soon, I have to start figuring out what comes next."

erik.maza@baltsun.com

twitter.com/midnightsunblog

If you go

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists will perform Tuesday at the Gspot, 2980 Falls Road. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets, at $13, are sold at missiontix.com

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