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Chip Away
By John Brodeur

Ted Leo/Pharmacists, Tigers & Monkeys
Valentine’s, July 19

In presenting a new song from his upcoming album Shake the Sheets (due in October), ex-Chisel frontman Ted Leo mentioned that a friend, upon hearing a demo of the song, referred to it as “kind of like Irish punk Rush dub.” That phrase might well be the best way to sum up Leo’s entire oeuvre—part Shane MacGowan, part Feargal Sharkey, a little Geddy Lee, and a lot Joe Strummer—and all of his roots were on display throughout his hour-plus set with the Pharmacists at Valentine’s.

Our boy Ted is a productive fellow, with three full-length records and a handful of EPs to show for his five years since taking on the Pharmacists as a backing band, and it’s easy to see why: The band are an accomplished bunch, dedicated to serving Leo’s mod- and two-tone-flavored tunes. The three-piece version of the Pharmacists (Dave Lerner on bass, Chris Wilson on drums) that came to town July 19 was lean and mean, absent the shrill keyboards of tours past that made the inevitable Attractions comparisons more than apt. They revisited material from each of their releases during the set, including two of Leo’s finest, “Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?” and “Timorous Me,” both of which revealed another stylistic forebear, classic rock; more specifically, Thin Lizzy.

While they were less flat-out stunning than they were the last time out, the group maintained a fluid vibe that suited the new songs well, especially the thunderous jungle beats of “Little Dawn” and the warp-speed Costello-isms of “Me and Mia.” Leo’s demeanor was that of a cool, well-read older brother to the indie-rock throng who shook their scruffy thangs down in front. More amiable and talkative than in previous area appearances, he used anecdotes to introduce songs like “I’m a Ghost,” which he explained was about “alienation from the political process” (as opposed to drinking with dead folk). The vaguely political vibe extended to a reverent, set-closing take on the Stiff Little Fingers classic “Suspect Device” and a solo encore of Ewan McColl’s “Dirty Old Town,” although in Ted Leo’s hands, the lyric “I’m going to make a good sharp axe, shining steel tempered in the fire, will chop you down like an old dead tree” sounded less like a rallying cry than a manifesto for his own brilliant, yet largely unappreciated career.

Tigers & Monkeys, led by indie-rock hottie (sorry, couldn’t resist mentioning that) ex-Ultrababyfat singer Shonali Bhowmik, opened with a sleazy, bluesy, and appropriately underrehearsed set that landed them somewhere between the White Stripes and Helium (that would be somewhere around Buffalo?). Better said, they were a lot like Le Tigre, plus instrumental talent, minus the agenda. It took a while for the sound to get ironed out, and the kick drum never sounded much better than the ass end of an oil drum, but the shitty sonics actually seemed to benefit tunes like “Vampire in a Dirty City” and the cranked-out “Stray Cat Strut” vibe of “Fire Escape.”

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