Is Ted Leo the best songwriter of his generation? That wasn’t a bad question to ask yourself last night at the B Side, where the indie rock staple showed up for a short, early-evening solo gig. With no stage to speak of other than a huge oriental rug, backed only by an amp, and encircled by a thick ring of adoring fans a spit’s distance from the man himself, Leo once again proved he’s a presence without his backing band, the Pharmacists.
Leo’s brand of song craft diamond-shines in a solo setting; he often does solo swings like this current jaunt as plenty of bootlegs swirling around the web attest. But in the flesh and blood, when he lets these songs out to play without the protective covering of bass and drums, Ted’s music takes on a whole new level of power, a balance-beam strut between intimate and energetic. Inside the high-production cathedral of 2001’s The Tyranny of Distance, a track like “Under the Hedge” is so glossy it’s hard to see the actual verse-chorus-verse underneath; last night, when Leo began plucking the opening notes, the song was threadbare for all to see.
Other highlights included Tyranny track “Timorous Me” as well as tracks from his latest two outings with the Pharmacists, 2007’s Living with the Living and 2010’s The Brutalist Bricks. As always, Leo was a charmer between sets, riffing on this and that before dropping the unsettling news that neither he nor the band will be back in Cleveland in the foreseeable future. Which is a shame. Either alone or armed with the band, Ted's one of the few music acts out there that you can consistently count on — count on to deliver album after album of good music, count on to bring his best chops to the stage every night, and count on to mean every word and note of it.