What does a more than two decade career in the indie/punk scene and being constantly heralded as one of the hardest-working people in music get you circa 2016? If you’re Ted Leo, it’s a smattering of opening slots for Bob Mould on his Patch The Sky tour, hollow-body electric in hand.
Finding time to hit the road in between recording new songs with Aimee Mann for their current project The Both (as well as a rumored forthcoming Ted Leo & The Pharmacists album) Leo ripped through a short set of classics and a few new/newish songs.
For whatever reason, Ted Leo shows always seem to happen at times in my life when I’ve needed them. I walk out of the venue with a smile on my face, ringing in my ears, and a sense that things will surely work out just fine. Is it Leo’s friendly and familiar banter with the audience? The sense of belonging due to his time spent living and recording in DC? All I can say is that when the opening chords to “Timorous Me” ring out, you can be sure it has been worth your while to show up on a rainy Wednesday to be regaled by one of the best rockers of a generation.
Even a broken string on “Me and Mia” couldn’t derail a great night. In the true DIY fashion he is known for, Leo didn’t have a rack of spare guitars or a horde of techs on hand to assist. He calmly took a string-change break as the house lights came up, in conjunction with some Muzak-ish background noise. What could’ve derailed the show simply allowed for Leo to to talk with the crowd, entertain a suggestion that the set list to be changed in order to accommodate ‘The Ballad of the Sin Eater”.
After a few more songs, it was on that note that Leo closed out the set, belting out a 13-year old song which still rings timely today. When Leo asks:
You didn’t think they could hate you, now did you?
Ah, but they hate you, they hate you ‘cause you’re guilty
Ah, but they hate you, make no mistake, they hate you
You can be sure that all is right and that questioning the status quo through music is something that will never tire.
It was evident, as the crowd swelled, that DC was excited to see former Washingtonian Bob Mould rip through what was sure to be a great night of new material from his current Patch The Sky album, as well as classics from his voluminous back catalog.
I’d recently read something Mould had written about his current tour, and I think it speaks volumes to why people are drawn to his music and persona. He made sure to note that when he made a return to guitar-driven punk/rock after a foray into the electronica scene, he was truly humbled by the increasingly positive response to his albums Silver Age and Beauty & Ruin despite the ratcheting up of complex/depressing topic material with each subsequent release. This all goes to show that you don’t have to trade musicianship for songwriting chops.
Taking the stage and immediately ripping into Copper Blue’s “A Good Idea” simply set the stage for a set whose songs were too numerous to recount. Mould’s unstoppable energy was amazing. Not that 55-year old punks aren’t common, but I don’t think he stopped moving the entire night, not even to take a sip of water or catch his breath between songs.
His longtime collaborators and bandmates Jason Narducy (Verbow, Split Single) and Jon Wurster (Superchunk, The Mountain Goats) also deserve to be highlighted. Simply seeing Wurster behind the drumkit, smiling and singing out his drum parts, is enough to make a great show even better. And it wasn’t just Mould that was running all over the stage, climbing on the drum riser, and obviously enjoying the packed house and energetic crowd, as Narducy matched him step for step.
The performance left little time to think about what was happening as there was truly no pauses between the songs in the set. It was only when the band walked off the stage, to the droning reverb of Mould’s Stratocaster ringing out in the 9:30 Club, that I could take a breath and appreciate what I’d seen.
That the band would return for a few more songs seemed all but certain when a third microphone was placed on the stage. And then, the best encore I think I’ve ever seen happened. When Wurster walked out to take the newly-installed mic I thought we were in for a treat, but I was then distracted by Ted Leo taking to the drumkit in a outfit consisting of a headband, running shorts and an amazing Madness shirt.
You just knew that this was going to be good. And it was better than good. As Wurster noted that it was 40 years ago last week that The Ramones debut album was released and that this one was for Government Issue’s John Stabb and the ‘Boycott Cancer’ movement that’s sprung up to help support him as he battles cancer, the now four-piece launched into an excellent rendition of “Beat on the Brat.”
Could it get better?
Who else but Bob Mould (via Husker Du) to make the Mary Tyler Moore Show theme song a compelling rocker? Needless to say, that melding of Minnesota culture was the icing on the cake of an amazing night.
As Mould laid down his guitar, surveyed the appreciate DC crowd, and took a moment to soak in the moment of an appreciative crowd in his former home, I think he and I shared the same thought: This had been a great night.