Even if you've heard the LPs, 2001's The Tyranny of Distance and last year's Hearts of Oak, seeing Ted Leo & the Pharmacists live is a revelation. Dropping buckets of sweat on the stage, frontman Leo digs into his tunes with an abandon probably unseen since Iggy was hanging out with the Stooges.
In Leo's case, however, the energy is less wild and more like a form of manic concentration -- a perfect match for songs that sound like Big Star reimagined as punk, along with dense wordplay, politics, and choruses that go off like rockets. Prime among these, perhaps -- and the highlight of most recent evenings with Leo -- is the chorus of "The Ballad of the Sin Eater," a rumination on American guilt that climaxes in a crowd-torching sing-along. Since his Pharmacists lineup locked into place, Leo's songwriting has grown more rhythmically ambitious and multi-layered, and the supporting players help lead the charge in concert. On Leo's latest, the EP Tell Balgeary, Balgury Is Dead, he went it alone, but onstage, with the band behind him, the songs take on new force. Come prepared to jump.