Over the course of six albums with the Pharmacists, Ted Leo has traced out a blueprint of how to live as an artist, a person, and as a friend in the 21st century. When his breakthrough second album, The Tyranny of Distance, was released in 2001, Ted Leo was heralded as the savior of post-hardcore spirit in the wake of the rise of pop emo and the breakup of Fugazi. Ten years into a solo career that has outlasted two stalwart indie labels (Lookout! and Touch and Go), Ted Leo still writes songs like a guy who believes complex ideas require complex sentences -- or at least very specific ones. Lifers like Leo, unafraid of inserting passionate personal politics into ebullient guitar rock, don't come around too often, and few can boast a track record like his. The ease with which he synthesizes punk and its many roots and branches into something distinctly his own rarely shown signs of slowing down.
The Brutalist Bricks, the first Pharmacists LP for the increasingly punk-leaning Matador and 6th overall, feels hopeful, purposeful, direct-- a mood helped along by the Pharmacists' most impressive musical showing on wax since 2003's masterful Hearts of Oak. The Brutalist Bricks is a mix of political defiance, personal growth, emotional honesty, and a heartfelt self-sacrifice. What it has that other Ted Leo releases don't is the kind of confidence that can only be forged by nearly two decades of performing and recording. Unlike just about all of his mid-'90s peers, Leo has successfully become a career musician on his own terms, and unlike many similar artists, he's developed something of a heroic quality. At this point, Leo's not going to take his audience for granted, but he's also allowed more room to breathe as a bandleader like few punk bands ever have. One never doubted Leo's passion, but Bricks finds this refugee from the Bush regime sounding rejuvenated. There are a clutch of great songs here and no real dead spots. Leo was impressive even when he was an unmitigated idealist but now, older and less sure of things, he is even better.
Opening the show, New York City’s Bear Hands bounce between swift, taut dance-punk, sullen Modest Mouse impressions, breezy "Ooh wooh"–inflected Beach Boys pop, and an ethereal indie-pop daydream.
Tickets for Ted Leo and the Pharmacists plus Bear Hands at the Pearl Street Clubroom, Thursday, December 2nd at 8:30PM are $15 at Northampton Box Office, 413-586-8686 and online at IHEG.com