The last time Ted Leo and the Pharmacists performed in Los Angeles, it was at FYF Fest in its old location at the LA State Historic Park, and would not move for another three plus years. That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to depicting the amount of things that have changed since the erstwhile Jersey-by-way-of-Indiana underrated punk icon and his group last graced a stage here in 2010. It’s not like he hasn’t been busy in that time, a collaboration album with Aimee Mann as The Both released in 2014 being among his chief accomplishments in his time away from the stage. But sometimes you’ve got an old itch to scratch, and for Leo that involved not only going back into the studio to record his most recent, somber release, The Hanged Man (his first credit as a solo artist) but getting back to hitting the road with the Pharmacists in tow.
Since the Teragram Ballroom was among one of the many new developments that occurred in the window of time between Leo and company’s last LA visit, it was a case of seeing a familiar face in a brand new place. But don’t be fooled, seven years away from performing together hasn’t diminished Ted Leo and the Pharmacists ability to deliver in a live setting. The band played for about two hours, with a few breaks here and there where Leo spoke to the crowd (more on that in a minute) and also graciously stepped aside for a couple of solo numbers, such as fan favorite “Me & Mia”). The Pharmacists on this tour are a mix of new and old members of the band, with Chicago-based guitarist Ralph Darden and Downtown Boys’ saxophonist Adrienne Berry joining mainstays like drummer Chris Wilson, guitarist James Canty and bassist Marty Key.
Perhaps because the concert took place on a night within close proximity to a particular date of political importance, or because it had been so long since Ted had had the chance to use his platform to speak to his audience, but he had plenty to say to the audience in between songs. At varying times during the two hour long set, Leo lambasted politicians and bad faith actors over subjects such as health care, LGBTQ rights and white supremacy. But the most memorable anecdote has to be toward the end of the set. Reintroducing the band to perform “Parallel or Together?” Leo recounted one of his favorite live music stories: The part of every KISS show where Paul Stanley would rile up the audience and cue them to sing along to their song “Cold Gin.” Of course, he did so as to muse on the fact that there is no such drink as a “cold” gin, and wrapping up his funny yet pedantic explanation, as well as to insist that the audience need – not – have to sing-along with the next song if folks didn’t want to. Unlike a KISS concert, Leo wanted to make sure you didn’t have to arbitrarily follow along and sing every word, something I respect him for.
But yeah, the show was great. Leo invited some friends on-stage to help perform “Let’s Stay On The Moon,” which included the aforementioned Aimee Mann, in addition to comedians Paul F. Thompkins and Tawny Newsome, as well as hip hop artist Open Mike Eagle. It was a nice treat for the fans that energetically sang along to hits like “Where Have All The Rude Boys Gone?” and “Bottled In Cork” with equal excitement as they did for material off The Hanged Man. After a thunderous one-two encore punch of “Timourous Me” and “Little Dawn,” Ted Leo and the Pharmacists bowed and exited stage right. This fan hopes that they return to Los Angeles soon, at least not waiting another 7 years or so, because in this day and age, the world needs more music as vibrant and moving as that made by Ted Leo and the Pharmacists.
Check below for their remaining tour dates and also Ted Leo’s website for more info on The Hanged Man and his other past work.
Words and photos by Lee Bedrouni