Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, Future of the Left
House of Blues, Orlando, Fl • October 4, 2008
The current leg of Against Me!’s never-ending tour serves as a victory lap for the band’s critically acclaimed fourth album New Wave, as well as their last chance to wallow in the freedom of the road before heading into the studio to work on the much anticipated follow-up.
Orlando has always been an easy sell out for the Gainesville band, but their recent stop at the House of Blues garnered less than impressive ticket sales. Blame it on the fact that the boys have had a show in Central Florida every few months for the last two years, or on the ripple effects of the recession tightening fans’ wallets. Whatever the reason, the fact that the venue was only half-filled can be excused, but the half-asleep state in which most of the fans stood throughout the night cannot be.
Wake up, it’s a rock show, I wanted to scream!
“It’s a pretty young crowd… older crowds drink and have a good time,” Andy Falkous, vocalist/guitarist for opening band Future of the Left, rationalized. “We won them over by the end though, don’t ya think?”
The Wales based trio did win over a handful of fans, but not nearly as many as they deserved. Blowing up the stage with a giant sound that seemed a lot like how Rage Against the Machine might sound if Zack de la Rocha screamed more and rapped less (especially during the pulsating fury of “Small Bones Small Bodies”), the virtually unknown band gave a 30-minute opening set that had my heart on the verge of pounding its way out of my chest. The clickety-click of the bassist’s fingers on the strings, the heavy foot of the otherwise small drummer, and the strength of scream that resided inside of the body of Falkous were such great surprises that I could have gone home after they played and been entirely satisfied.
Being a bona fide Against Me! fan kept me from calling it an early night, and so I was next treated to a performance by Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. While not as loud and raucous as either Future of the Left or the headliners, Leo and his band were still considerably more amped up than when I saw them two years ago opening for Death Cab For Cutie. Thank the Gods for that, because I had not been looking forward to a folky 45 minutes.
Leo’s near hour-long set was a tad long for my taste, but that’s not to say that he didn’t impress. Their music, which on record comes off a little whiny and weak, was backed by a punch I didn’t see coming — especially when they covered a Future of the Left song. Complemented by his witty repartée, the Indie Rock folk singer with the punk rock resume — he previously fronted the hardcore bands Chisel and Citizens Arrest — commanded the crowd’s attention with ease. It would not be an overstatement to say that many of the bodies in the venue seemed to have come out specifically to see Ted Leo’s set.
The Against Me! fans were subdued, as I mentioned, and as the band’s set time neared, the enthusiasm only slightly increased. Lucky for everyone who bought a ticket, this is a band that will knock it out of the park every time. Whether they’re playing in front of 700 sleepy fans, or 10,000 Foo Fighters fans — whom they won over on a nightly basis while opening for the rock Gods on an arena tour earlier this year — Against Me! don’t appear to know the meaning of the word mediocre.
Slipping a few older songs into the set very early on brought the veteran fans to attention, but it wasn’t until about halfway through the set, when they played 2007’s “Americans Abroad,” that the audience seemed to plug themselves in. A light switch flipped, and the pit became a blur. Crowd surfers were passed happily along and into the hands of the suddenly busy bouncers, and everything snapped into Technicolor.
Rather than extend the momentum by leading into another pit-friendly song, the band boldly went into the quiet love song “Borne on the FM Radios of the Heart.” On record the song is a duet between Against Me!’s Tom Gabel and Tegan Quin of Tegan and Sara, but onstage the female vocals were supplied by guitarist James Bowman. Though the song choice may have left a few fans frustrated, the performance was one of the most gorgeous four minutes of the entire show.
The night ended with an extended encore, and a wide awake crowd, that closed out with “Sink Florida Sink” and “We Laugh at Danger and Break All the Rules,” off of their 2002 debut Reinventing Axl Rose.
While the band takes some much needed time off, front man Tom Gabel will stay on the road, as part of Chuck Ragan’s Revival Tour, promoting his first solo record, Heart Burns.