'Twas my first time seeing Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, somehow. Maybe it was because by the time I'd gotten into them (probably some time in 2006 when I picked up a used copy of Shake the Sheets), Ted Leo and the boys started doing support tours for pretty huge acts and playing equally huge festivals (Death Cab for Cutie, Coachella, Pitchfork). Here they were opening for alterna-rock behemoths Pearl Jam, a bill that seemed to promise a pretty good time. Maybe not a $77 good time, but had I been actually following PJ and their albums much closer the last decade, maybe so.
Teddy and co., playing as a four-piece, busted out a pretty rousing half-hour set that was occasionally sloppy and sometimes awkward in a huge and legendary venue (Madison Square Garden) that was nowhere near filled to its sold-out capacity yet. Crowd members sparsely flecked the seats, and thus many missed out on being treated to the punky-Costello-pop that otherwise sounded invigorating and energetic, Leo's voice echoing through the cavernous vault. They opened with "The Sons of Cain," then moved right into "Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?," going back a few albums to Hearts of Oak. They also played two new songs, back to back. The first sounded good, like a more streamlined version of the songs on Living with the Living -- maybe somewhere in between that and Shake the Sheets, actually. The second was pretty fantastic; it was a bit frenetic, like "Bomb. Repeat. Bomb.," with skittering drums and some jagged riffs; think Buzzcocks covering the Lawrence Arms' "The March of the Elephants." Speaking of "Bomb. Repeat. Bomb.," I was definitely looking forward to hearing it; it probably confused some of the crowd members, and it was a little rushed at first, but once the members settled in, it was a sweet, discordant jam-out. The band wrapped up with three more, and while the sweet and salty reggae jam "The Unwanted Things" is a feel-good gibe, they definitely could have picked a better closer. Oh well. Definitely a solid set otherwise.
Set list (7:30-7:59):
- The Sons of Cain
- Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?
- new song
- new song
- Bomb. Repeat. Bomb.
- Counting Down the Hours
- Little Dawn
- The Unwanted Things
Anyway, the band came on about 45 minutes later to a packed house. All the indicators of a veteran rock act who writes good songs and stays active were there; they sounded great, had fans raising their arms and singing along to practically every word, and did three encores. Seriously. Three encores. That added up to a two hour and 41 minute set. Christ. Come to think of it, their "encores" totaled longer than the initial set.
Pearl Jam tended to bunch together a few songs in a row and then take a short break, which enabled them to play quite a few songs in that timespan. The breaks were usually spent by a grateful frontman in Eddie Vedder, who would warm up to the already heated crowd a bit, speak about his beliefs or causes or talk about past experiences on tour. Vedder said at one point, "We don't even have a new album to support. We just wanted to come play some songs for you guys" ("And make a shitload of money," scoffed my buddy).
They seemed to alternate among their more balladic and energetic material, and that worked really well; when "Corduroy" was laid down, it was an early firecracker that seemed to really pick up the crowd.
The band's monstrous singles ruled too, obviously. "Even Flow" had probably about a five-minute solo from guitarist Mike McCready, as he did at the band's 2003 show at the Garden which was made into a DVD. Vedder actually traded beers with an audience member near the stage during said bridge, which was partially amusing. In fact, his crowd interaction with those few front rows was generally funny, even if he was gently pouring beer into someone's mouth. It seemed less of a brosky moment and more a way of just trying to interact with a portion of a crowd of, oh, 20,000 or so.
Paying tribute to some predecessors, several covers were busted out as the band has been known to do. Though they couldn't nearly match Townshend's anguish in the original, "Love, Reign O'er Me" might've been the highlight, sounding big, anthemic and damaged, the legendary chorus howled back by the entire audience.
Though I really would've loved to hear "Jeremy" and "Better Man" (I guess the band doesn't play the former too much these days for whatever reason -- they've only played it once on this tour so far), I can't really complain about a set list that nearly hit three hours, played proficiently by a bunch of dudes who have seemingly shed rock star excess and pomp -- I might've been up a few sections, but it seemed like Vedder was rocking an open flannel (over a peace sign Tee) just like he would have at grunge's peak 15+ years ago.
Set list (8:43-10:01):
- Hard to Imagine
- Save You
- Why Go
- All Night
- Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town
- Given to Fly
- You Are
- 1/2 Full
- Even Flow
- Present Tense
- Do the Evolution
First Encore (10:06-10:38):
- Love, Reign O'er Me (Pete Townshend cover)
- Spin the Black Circle
- Wasted Reprise
Second Encore (10:41-11:11):
- No More
- Crazy Mary (Victoria Williams cover)
- I Believe in Miracles (Ramones cover)
Third Encore (11:13-11:24):
- All Along the Watchtower (Bob Dylan cover)