Article and photography submitted courtesy of Luke Slisz.
The Triple Rock Social Club in Minneapolis is closing its doors for good on November 22, but Ted Leo and the Pharmacists gave it a proper send off on Saturday night. Leo repeatedly referenced the movie Beat Street throughout his set, paraphrasing the quote, “It won’t be a funeral. It’s gonna be a celebration,” and there couldn’t be a better description for the show.
Ian Sweet did a suitable job of opening, but their set was little more than a distant memory by the time Leo and his band, the Pharmacists were finished. The group powered through nearly 30 songs in just over two hours, including material from each of Leo’s albums, as well as impromptu fan requests of Prince’s “Purple Rain” and Leo’s own “The Little Smug Supper Club.”
Due to the occasional use of a piano and acoustic guitar, Leo joked that he was evolving (or perhaps devolving, depending on how you interpreted his self-depreciating sense of humor), from a mod punk to a singer-songwriter, but it would be more apt to say that he has entered the London Calling phase of his career. The Pharmacists, originally a trio, has doubled in size to include six members, including three guitarists and a saxophonist. Rather than sounding bloated, the group was tighter than ever. Adrienne Berry, whose soulful sax playing and energetic presence rivaled that of Leo himself, fit so perfectly that it makes one wonder why it took the band so long to add some brass to its lineup.
Raucous, full-band renditions of “Little Dawn”, “Biomusicology,” and closer “It’s OK,” (a Dead Moon cover dedicated to front man Fred Cole, who recently passed away) especially benefited from the expanded lineup, but Leo proved he was more than capable of commanding the room all on his own with his emotional solo performances of “Lonsdale Avenue” and “Me and Mia,” both of which inspired passionate crowd sing-a-longs.
Leo took time between songs to pontificate on the state of the world, but his practical, somewhat dour worldview was balanced out by humorous quips from both him and his band mates, as well as by the genuine joy and optimism that shines through many of his songs. Despite the rough, personal experiences that inspired his latest album (The Hangman, released in 2017, seven years after his last Pharmacists record), Leo’s inspired and inspiring performance made it clear that he’s going to soldier on no matter the world throws at him. It’s good to have him back.