Ted Leo and the Pharmacists with Vague Angels, live at Jack Rabbits – by Lucy
I first found out a few months ago that Teddy was coming to Jack Rabbits. I jumped up and down. I squealed. I wondered if it was too early to buy tickets. I told everyone I knew, despite no one I know liking the same music I do. I quietly thanked the powers that be that the day after would be a holiday because I knew it would be an intense show and I wouldn’t want to get up so early the next morning.
I would’ve gone anyway, regardless of what I had to do the next day. It would’ve been worth it, too. It was worth the $13 at the door (it would’ve been worth more). It was worth the cigarette smoke all around, it was worth navigating the uneven floor of Jack Rabbits.
While I left a greater fan of Teddy and the Pharmacists than I began, I’m sorry to say I didn’t leave a fan of the opening act, Vague Angels. I wanted to, Teddy really seemed to like them; he talked them up quite a bit during his show. I just found them musically to be out of sync (during one song I swear the drummer was playing a different song. I was thinking maybe he got the wrong playlist? Maybe it’s like in school when you get a standardized test and the person next to you gets a different test so you can’t cheat?).
I also felt like I was being suffocated by the monotony of the singer’s voice. It seemed like an aesthetic choice on the singer’s part, like he was consciously trying to channel Lou Reed. It was an aesthetic choice that didn’t grab me, though. While Lee is monotonous, he also infuses his songs with a lot of charm to make up for what he lacks in vocal delivery. Plus Reed is an original. Vague Angels seemed to be led by an emo-haired boy dirging over several layers of slow-core disharmony. The music did pick up from slow-core to mid-core; I found the later songs in the set (they only played 5 or 6) to be more favorable, but I just couldn’t get past his delivery.
I can’t remember if the songs on their Vague Angels Myspace page are the same songs they played, but I will say that the musicianship is much tighter in the recorded songs than in the live set (which could be due to technical issues). His voice is a little punchier in the song “I Did Not Find You…” on Myspace, but this is not indicative of his singing during the concert. It’s really just a matter of taste; other people will feel that his vocals fit the songs perfectly. A review quoted on their label’s website cites their music as “harmoniously rich”, but they also note that it’s “droning”, which I think is what turned me off to it. Of course since I just found out that the singer, Chan, is Ted Leo’s brother, I’m trying really hard to be more positive. I might like his writing.
Teddy and the Pharmacists put on the show I knew they would. Their show started fast, stayed fast and didn’t falter. Teddy completely engaged the audience; even when he was tuning he was still talking to us. The audience responded back too, which after seeing dozens of shows in Jacksonville, I know isn’t a given. Teddy was quick to respond to our “suggestions” (one of which was a request for the B-52’s song “Rock Lobster”).
Later, he was talking for a minute between songs and a concerned concert-goer yelled out “Less talkin’ and more rockin’”. (Yes, we’re representing the best of Jax at every step). It seemed like the guy probably just wanted a little attention, and he got it. Teddy stopped in his tracks and jokingly informed the concerned concert-goer that he can (paraphrasing) go out the fucking door, or something like that. It made me laugh, and it showed that Teddy has a good sense of humor. That wasn’t his only interaction with the audience: at one point he invited a girl from the front row to get up and play the guitar. I’m not sure how the exchange started–she was in the front row and I couldn’t hear what she’d said to get Teddy’s attention. She had this wonderfully blase attitude, though; the guitar was strung over her and it was almost as big as she was (she was a very petite woman). She was calmly puffing on her cigarette while she tried to figure out the chords. She played a bit of one of Teddy’s songs, but couldn’t remember the whole thing so he took the guitar back after a minute or so. Personalizing the show like that helped make the night memorable for us and I hope for the band also. I swear I caught Teddy smiling at a girl in front of me who was tearing up the dance floor. I’d been talking to her before the show and I’d had no idea how much a fan she was: she’d been so calm and demure. As soon as Teddy let into his guitar, though, she was throwing up her arms in the air, bouncing around and singing every one of the lyrics. I only know about half the lyrics. I was totally shown up!
If you’re inclined to dance at all, then you couldn’t help but dance the entire time. I danced to every song (even towards the end of the show when I couldn’t feel my feet anymore). I couldn’t be as carefree as I wanted to, though, because of that pesky uneven floor. I seemed to be on a continental divide. My right foot was about two inches higher than my left foot. I could’ve changed places, but man, I was right in front of Teddy. I wasn’t going anywhere. So, I tread the divide between the two floor levels, and I was mindful that I didn’t fall off the shelf. In the front row, directly in front of Teddy were two guys who seemed to be into the music, but they weren’t looking at the stage at all; they were taking pictures of each other the whole time. I got the sense that they were just really excited to have cameras and be able to take pictures of themselves. Maybe they wanted to document their own, personal experiences of the show. It was strange, but again it was one of those things that made the show unique. Maybe when Teddy remembers Jacksonville he’ll remember the “less talkin’” guy, the girl who played the guitar, the girl who sashayed around with her arms in the air and the two guys who were at their own show.
I’ll remember those things, but I’ll also remember that the Pharmacists played great and played almost every song I knew. They started the set with the powerhouse “Where Have All The Rude Boys Gone”. Definitely one of my favorites; I was extremely excited when he dedicated it to Jacksonville. I got the sense he did that because it’s such an energetic song and we were such an energetic audience. I don’t think he was trying to imply that the rude boys have gone to Jacksonville. I know he had a good impression of Jacksonville, though, because he said after playing in huge arenas with Death Cab For Cutie, he and his band walked in to Jack Rabbits, looked around and said “Fuck Yeah”. I understood what he meant: Jack Rabbits is small, smoky, uneven and the bathrooms may not always work, but it’s part of my extended home. As Teddy said, he knows where he’s appreciated. They played a few new songs, and despite never hearing the new songs before, I never wanted to sit down.
They’re the kind of band that I’m genuinely grateful I know about. They’re labeled a punk band in a lot of reviews, and while they have that blistering energy, the songs have the most intricate (and often extraordinary) melodies of any punk band I’ve heard. Teddy’s voice is just gorgeous. Their base is firmly in rock, though; Teddy’s guitar sounds like a banshee when he’s playing and several times he was so enraptured in the guitar part that he turned towards the back of the stage and got lost in his own guitarist-ness. I can’t blame him; he’s an excellent player and I found myself getting lost in the sound, also.
While some music just can’t transfer live (which may have interfered with my appreciation of the opening band), the Pharmacists’ songs were heightened in a live environment. Their music is made to be played live. I always suspected that they would put on an exceptional, eventful show, and I was right. They definitely know how to be musicians and performers. They’ve also always been great about having music available for download on their website and Myspace (how do you think someone as poor as I am heard of them?)