Live at Cockpit on Thursday, 17th April 2008
Sometimes it feels like you're living through a repeat. Every few years a touring band circles back around and nothing much seems to have changed, even the merch table is pushing the same old shirts.
But as the saying goes time waits for no man and Ted Leo is now reaching veteran status. In my eyes an American underground hall-of-famer, Leo recently signed to Touch And Go after a series of excellent indie-punk records on Lookout!. His latest album Living With The Living suffers from uncharacteristic lapses in consistency but still remains loaded with fresh ideas.
Tonight, the band rattle through song after song barely stopping to catch breath. Songs are strung together, maybe because of an encroaching curfew but more likely standard practice for a line-up that seems extremely well drilled. The effect is like a helluva bar band getting paid by the track.
They stutter to begin with. The back room of The Cockpit is half full, if that and next month Ted Leo will be supporting Pearl Jam on a US stadium tour. Thankfully things loosen up, assisted by Leo's goofy banter, and it no longer feels like a run-through.
Snatched highlights include Me and Mia, Timorous Me and Little Dawn, where Leo's shut-eyed repetition of the line "It's alright" is strung out for so long that he had to sneak a peek at the audience. Personally I was rapt, as I was during Bomb Repeat Bomb which demonstrates that not every songwriter has forgotten how to include political content without sounding like a simpleton or a textbook.
The show's failings are predictable enough. Living With The Living's low points are not invigorated by Leo and co's boundless energy. Particularly unwelcome are Colleen and A Bottle Of Buckie - tracks that are sluggish on record and barely improved upon here.
Conversely the show finishes on an unpredictable high, with two covers of songs from Leeds bands. I can't say that I instantly recognised Leo's take on Chumbawumba or The Mekons (hats off to internet forums) but I can say they were ferocious and memorable. (Leo has history with cover versions, check out his YouTube reworking of Kelly Clarkson's pop gem Since U Been Gone blended with Yeah Yeah Yeah's Maps.) Apparently the local covers were strictly a one-off and they would not be covering Bob Tilton in Nottingham the following night. All I can say to that is, bad luck Nottingham.