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Ted Leo shakes up LaFortune Saturday

Observer Scene | Thursday, November 10, 2005

The last time Ted Leo (Class of 1994) played a show at Notre Dame, it was the early ’90s, and he was an English major. When he returns Saturday night in WVFI’s “Quadrock,” he will be back as one of the most respected and popular indie rock stars to ever play on the second floor of his alma mater’s student center.

His resume is impressive – four critically-acclaimed full-length albums and one solo EP, a profile documentary entitled “Dirty Old Town” (filmed by another Notre Dame graduate, Justin Mitchell, Class of 1995), and a nomination for sexiest vegan by PETA2 in 2005.

Alongside his band mates, known as the Pharmacists, Leo’s live show is a uniquely energetic environment. Leo often jumps around the stage playing his electric guitar with an amp cable that looks more like a telephone cord trying to keep up with him. Bassist Dave Lerner swings his hips to frenetic bass lines, while drummer Chris Wilson accelerates the momentum, mercilessly beating his drum kit.

Recently, Leo has been involved in several musical projects including Flower15 at the Metro in Chicago, a series of concerts to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Flower Booking, a booking agency whose clients include over 50 bands such as Interpol, Jimmy Eat World and Leo himself. Leo also contributed a cover of the Beatles’ “I’m Looking Through You” to “This Bird Has Flown,” a tribute album celebrating the 40th anniversary of “Rubber Soul.” Other artists appearing on the compilation include Sufjan Stevens, Ben Kweller and the Fiery Furnaces.

Leo gained national popularity for his second full-length, “Tyranny of Distance,” in 2001. Anthemic hits such as “Biomusicology,” “Timorous Me” and “My Vien Ilin” – some of which he usually includes in his live sets two albums and four years later – were early indicators of Leo’s boundless songwriting potential.

In 2003, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists exploded with the release of “Hearts of Oak.” The album immediately received Pitchfork Media’s “best new music” honors and a spot in the Top 30 of Pitchfork’s top albums of the year. Leo’s fresh rhythms and erudite vocabulary combined elements of classic rock with the current indie scene. Fan favorites included “Ballad of the Sin Eater,” a five-minute narrative voyage consisting mostly of bass and drums, “Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?” an addictive tune about Leo’s longing for the ska era of punk, and “2nd Ave. 11 AM,” which concludes with unexpected French lyrics that make people who don’t even understand what they’re saying sing along.

After the major success of “Hearts of Oak,” Ted Leo released a solo EP, “Tell Balgeary Balgury Is Dead,” which included solo versions of two “Hearts of Oak” songs as well as a handful of early obscure rock and punk covers. “Tell Balgeary Balgury is Dead” was more passionate than anything Leo ever released. The furious strumming melting into his falsetto voice revealed Leo’s special talents, especially on Ewan McColl’s “Dirty Old Town.” What Ben Folds was to the piano, Ted Leo is to the electric guitar.

A strenuous touring schedule took Leo to 2004 and his fourth, and most anticipated, full-length album, “Shake the Sheets.” The album echoes many of the songwriting techniques from “Hearts of Oak” but with cleaner production and less repetition. While four of the songs on “Hearts of Oak” topped five minutes, nine of the 11 on “Shake the Sheets” are under four.

Leo performs lots of the more exciting songs live including, “Me and Mia,” “The Angels’ Share,” “The One Who Got Us Out,” “Counting Down the Hours,” “Little Dawn,” “Shake the Sheets” and “Walking To Do.”

With enough material to keep a crowd excited for hours, Leo won’t pull any punches in what is sure to be one of the most exciting musical events for Notre Dame this year.

Campus artists Somersaults and Ryan Martin are the openers for the event.