Ted Leo, Gang of Four, Versus - Three shows in three days…
For a guy who doesn't get out much… I guess I it happens once in a while. On Sunday afternoon, Ted Leo squeezed in a free matinee for parents and kids at the Eagle Rock Center for the Arts before the evening's sold-out evening show (with stand-up comedians and a Q&A with Keith Morris) and following the previous night's appearance at the fancy Mondrian Hotel's Skybar. I'm a big fan of his music, and thought it was cool to expose young minds to a left-leaning vegan who tends to wear anarcho-peace punk shirts. Oh, yeah, he's an amazing songwriter and performer, too. The show started out with a DJ set by Morris, storytelling by Dallas Clayton, and free ice cream! I'm not sure if there were dairy-free options.
Although Leo has faced plenty of tough crowds, this one's attention span was even shorter than usual. However, a veteran of not one but two record label implosions must have the PMA to carry on, and the ex-Chisel member has it in spades. Without support from his tack-sharp backing band The Pharmacists or the lively, witty crowd interaction that he usually elicits, he soldiered through a short-but-strong set.
And the short list of songs got even shorter. No new covers were thrown in the mix (although Squeeze got in) but they would have been lost on most of the kids anyway. Afterward I thanked Ted for playing the free show for such a small and rough crowd, and he admitted that it was difficult to follow a confetti cannon. Nonetheless, I love his catchy, smart, poetic, and muck-raking pop and Eloise dug it, too. She even got the setlist! Hopefully, my three-year-old daughter will continue to go along with my musical tastes for a while and not rebel with her own, inevitably opposite direction too soon.
The next evening I happened to be invited by a good friend to see Gang of Four at the Music Box in Hollywood. I got to see the offshoot band Shriekback on the Big Night Music tour way back when at Fender's Ballroom (with Hoodoo Gurus at their peak!) but never saw the highly influencial group that bassist Dave Allen came from. Yes, Gang of Four were amazing. Singer Jon King and guitarist Andy Gill remain, and still play the best funk-informed, Maoist-inspired post punk ever–blowing away the copycats–and their copycats, too.
King does not stop moving. While the front man's movement often seems to correspond with the lyrics he's singing, the effect is not theatrical in any way. It's more like he's being shocked by electricity or being controlled by an invisible (and cruel) puppet master Meanwhile, Gill is as stoic in his demeanor and masterful in his playing. When he sings, it's similarly straightforward–a perfect foil to King.
They played songs of their cool new album, but didn't neglect any of the hits: “Damaged Goods,” “To Hell with Poverty,” “At Home He's a Tourist,” “I Love a Man in a Uniform”… During “Anthrax,” Allen thoroughly destroyed his guitar. I've seen plenty of axes ruined onstage over the years, but never as cold-blooded as this. The final show of the band's U.S. tour slowly became packed and ended totally drained. Go see this band any chance you get, because they totally deliver the goods.
Yesterday afternoon, I recieved a text from my friend Richard that his flight was being delayed and that we wouldn't be able to meet up before heading over to The Echo where has band Versus was playing. We'd have to meet at the venue, which is just ten minutes from home. Actually, Versus usually skips soundcheck anyway, so it wasn't that big of a deal when the New Yorkers showed up shortly after the club's doors opened. Even after the late arrival, having to use borrowed gear that was just picked up, and going over music with a friend who would be accompanying them for the first time, Richard and his brother/drummer Ed still made it out to the Brite Spot to join Wendy and me for some coffee and catching up. No worries!