Ted Leo/Pharmacists / The Duke Spirit / Les Aus
40 Watt; Athens, GA

The thing you should know about
Athens concert venues is that shows start at 10:30 pm--as in, the
opening band finally shuffles up on stage nursing PBRs when an hour away in
Atlanta a second group is setting up their gear. Townies and underage co-eds
with fake IDs are already on their third or fourth beer (even more if it's the
weekend or Thursday) and talkatively make their way into the now smokeless
clubs. I've arrived at a place like the Caledonia by 1am and not missed the
headliner. In fact, the last band's still finishing their set.

Perhaps it's indicative of the laid-back Southern mentality (face it, Atlanta
runs on corporate Eastern seaboard time) or maybe it's just that Athens runs
on "rock time." Either way, the occasional exception out of the late-night
norm has caused me to miss nearly entire sets by legends like Daniel Lanois.
Gauging the out-of-the-ordinary early set is difficult. You have to ask the
following questions: Is the performer older in his years? Will the people be
more the party-all-night, Guided By Voices crowd or the be-in-bed-by-midnight,
Death Cab For Cutie crowd? Is the performer worth staying up until last call?
Are you looking for an excuse to get toasted until last call, you lazy drunk?

I can now add a new factor: the performer's health. Ted Leo's been in and out
hospitals and therapy for vocal chord inflammation over the past few years. He
tours harder than most bands, talks with countless radio stations and fans not
heavy-handedly like a merchandiser but more like a rock prophet. I converted
with many in 2003 with the advent of Hearts of Oak, a record that
re-revitalized my hope for punk rock and music in general. The hooks were real
and vigorous, but it was Leo's vocal enthusiasm that solidified him as a
legend in the making. Imagine my concern when the veteran opened the show
saying that night was the first in a week they'd been able to play.

Because we arrived at 10:45 pm, my lady and I missed Les Aus, a group whose
description in the local weekly ("Catalan-sung psychedelia") sounded extremely
promising (on later exploration, I found out they did, indeed, rule). We did,
however, catch the tail end of The Duke Spirit, one of those "Breaking Out"
bands or something NME probably shit their trousers over, that sounded like PJ
Harvey fronting Spiritualized or maybe an extroverted Nico singing for a
friendlier Velvet Underground. I didn't really buy it. The lead vocalist,
Liela Moss, certainly acted like an energetic stage performer, beating the
tambourine within an inch of its life and dropping to the floor like the
famous live Doors footage you also see of Jim Morrison on VH1's 100 Most
Shocking Moments in Rock
montage. I can dig a musician as performer in the
latter role's "performative" sense, the qualities of the whole stage show, but
only when the performance is genuine and not presented as an object to gawk

Despite Ted Leo's opening explanation, the audience and the band grabbed onto
each other immediately. After a week's rest and visibly a little discomfort,
Ted Leo wanted nothing more than to get back to what he does best: creating a
real relationship with the audience. At one point in the show when his voice
was giving out, Ted Leo told the audience to get off their lazy asses and sing
along, or more helpfully, get on stage and grab a microphone. No one,
unfortunately, took him up on the latter offer, but we did all shout the
chorus to a song off Shake the Sheets, to which Leo was appreciative.
After a one-two punch of Hearts of Oak material, the band introduced
"Army Bound," which still sounded like it was in its formative stages, but the
extended guitar solo was a nice surprise I hope comes through the recording.

Unfortunately, the whole time I couldn't help but think the man was a leader
with half an attentive audience. He's one of the few in rock ‘n roll that has
something honest and real to say both in lyric and in conversation. Watching
him was like seeing a solo Billy Bragg on national television a month ago: a
solid, heartfelt performance, yet almost wasted on a crowd only intent on
being entertained. Sure, entertainment is a large part of why people attend
concerts, but musicians like Billy Bragg and Ted Leo offer the possibility or
the challenge of change. This brings in the question of audience
responsibility: does it exist? Should the crowd invest in the performance as
much as the performer? More? Experience on the latter question suggests yes,
but there are still those who expect product shouting, "Here we are now,
entertain us!" (never thought I'd quote Kurt Cobain). Nevertheless, Ted Leo
will tirelessly continue to give his 110%, and I hope that, for rock ‘n roll's
sake, there are people out there giving back more.

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