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The Revolution Will Not B◊ Sponsored Ted Leo and the Pharmacists Fight the Good Fight


isten: if the hackneyed bumper sticker is true and money is the devil, then we’re all pretty much going straight to hell. This is the real deal, physical original sin. So, if we’re going to continue with this religious metaphor (and hopefully we won’t much longer), then piousness is a true virtue. When everything is neatly priced, we can’t allow ourselves to be owned. One might be reminded of seeing William Ayers speak at the Athens Human Rights Festival a few weeks back. Paraphrasing here must be forgiven, but the Chicagoan radical/ Fox News talking point was speaking about the efficacy of various individuals in the political process, and he framed art and artists in what might be considered an unusual slant: he defined art as altruistic. He didn’t see artists in the popularly held pose of chronic self-involvement and masturbatory aesthetic blinders. He saw artists as giving, as willing to work as catalysts for something larger than themselves. This is the raison d’être of Ted Leo and his Pharmacists. Theirs is a world where purity actually—stop me if you’ve heard this one before—matters. It’s a diamond-hard belief that the conversation that occurs between artist and listener pivots on that axis and that axis alone. Sponsorship, private interests, and such are alien by the very nature of their motivations. “I personally hate the fact that I associate whatever, Isuzu, with a Buzzcocks song,” says Leo. “Because it changes the context of music that was previously so important to me, and that was at least originally presented as something that was incorruptible—[something] that was about showing a young person who has aged, obviously, but still retains these… ideals that there are realms to life, aspects to life, that don’t revolve around commerce and capitalism and product placement.” This interview took place a week prior to the day that Pearl Jam continued on its march towards becoming the grunge U2 and announced plans to tie its forthcoming album with Target. With the music industry’s means of support still a big fat Comic



Sans question mark, artists like Leo who have been saying “no thanks” to free money from nice men in suits for over a decade now (much longer if you count his previous band Chisel) are facing grim circumstances. “We’d just hit that point where, ‘Holy shit, we’re paying our bills! I don’t need to go do a temp job anymore!’ We hit that moment exactly when it ceased being an option for bands at our level of the game. And I don’t say that in a boo-hoo way; it’s just kind of one of those cosmic ironies. We don’t actually completely make our living from music anymore; we did for a brief shining moment.” Let’s pause for a moment to discuss a tiny bit of detritus from the prior sentence: music. Leo’s music is often punk only in attitude. After he broke into indie consciousness with The Tyranny of Distance in 2001, he established his weapons of choice as decidedly more populist than the double-time/ noswing approach favored by the Warped Tour set. With his sometimes-rotating but always solid Pharmacists, he has whipped out a combination of celtic-centric Thin Lizzy-esque, melodic, fist-pumping, ‘60s soul for vocal inspiration, and vigorous nods

of the hat to Elvis Costello. But he’s not 100-percent stationary, as the very, very awesome experiment with reggae “Crying Over You” from 2007’s Living with the Living proved. The music is generally pop rock, and that’s what makes it a Trojan horse. As the indie-punk community has bleached itself further into what is now today’s world of barstool liberals, it seems like political content has become somehow unfashionable. And so Leo’s approach of using rabble-rousing pop gets his alwayspoliticized (but frequently subtle) lyrics to the masses. But in the time since, Touch & Go, Leo’s label of choice, succumbed to the economy and stopped pressing new releases. And while it seems like an obvious route now, even when Spin and Rolling Stone were running features on the Pharmacists, major labels were never in the equation. “I’ve made no bones that I’m really not comfortable with working with a major label. I’ve talked to labels here and there, and I’ve always walked away thinking that I’ve made the right choice in not going in that direction,” he says. “Let me also say that I think that the kind of dialogue that goes on around this, kids getting into arguments about who sold out and who hasn’t, people think it’s a bunch of bullshit—but I don’t think it is. I think it’s totally valuable and valid to discuss those ideas, to figure out where you stand on these things and hash out these issues, because they are real issues.” Jeff Tobias

WHO: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, Titus Andronicus, All the Saints WHERE: 40 Watt Club WHEN: Thursday, June 11 HOW MUCH: $10 (advance)


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