Ted Leo is to punk rock what the Mercedes Benz is to luxury cars. Sure, he’s punk (equal parts the Jam, Attractions, and Bruce Springsteen), but that doesn’t mean anyone else in his category can stand next to him.
Now, that’s not to say the guy is German-made — he’s from Jersey, in fact — but it is to say that, while other punk rockers write whiny songs about heartbreak (um, emo) or angry songs about why we should topple the government (then again, isn’t this what punk is about?), Leo crafts songs about hope and how, no matter how bad a situation has become, “We can still fix it!” On “Me and Mia,” the opening track of his latest album, Shake the Sheets, he sings, “Do you believe in something beautiful?” with an urgency that lets you know he surely does.
Ted Leo & the Pharmacists
and Les Aus
Wed, Mar 15
1818 N. Main
While Hearts of Oak catapulted Leo and his band, the Pharmacists, to national attention a few years ago, Sheets solidifies their reputation as one of the best indie bands in the business. In fact, they don’t come any indier than Leo; he’s completely indifferent to things like critics and silly things like major-label deals, even as he produces albums that leave potential dollar signs floating dreamily about the eyes of record execs. Even his recent label change, from Lookout Records to Chicago’s Touch & Go was a parallel move and not the upgrade many have expected to eventually come.
But don’t think this left-leaning activist with the civics messages doesn’t know how to have fun, too. After all, he’s fond of covering home-state hero Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” while onstage. That’s sort of like eating McDonald’s with your chardonnay, but, hey, whatever works.