Ted Leo, Keith TOTP, Helen Chambers
Steven Morgan 16/12/2009
Unfortunately I missed Helen Chambers's set due to an incident involving me tearing my flat apart trying to find my door keys before leaving. I eventually braved the cold to arrive midway through Keith TOTPs ramshackle of a set. On paper, it's an atrocity involving a rag tag band of indie "celebrities" playing along to Keith's simple songs often with no rehearsal or further preparation other than either having previously played them on stage or a quick bark of the chord progression from Keith at the start. In practice however, it's far more endearing. Having the most trouble to keep track of what's going on is the uncharacteristically shy Eddie Argos of Art Brut on bass, almost giving up at some points as he loses the thread of what he should be playing.
As I said, this sort of thing should bomb, but the enjoyment and good spirited feel of the set makes you overlook its weaknesses and just enjoy the moments where it all comes together all the more. Aside from the Christmas song which was easily identified from Keith wearing a black Santa Claus hat with "Bah Humbug" scrawled across it and the raucous closing fantastic simpleness which is I Hate Your Band, I couldn't tell you much about the rest of the set, other than Keith's unabashed shamelessness in revealing his "inspirations" (read "origins of rip off") for each tune to help the rest of the band and the audience get a feel for it. Oddly, I'd actually be quite excited to hear some recorded output from Keith, but with the arbitrary "March?" mentioned on a release date for it much to the amusement to the rest of the band, I can't imagine that happening any time soon.
Ted Leo's travelling light this tour, with just his pedals and Gibson to his own, plugging in through someone else's amp and trying to find the abrasive sound that characterises his recorded output with The Pharmacists. We're treated to a great set with a broad combination of songs from the new album, older material and an abundance of covers from The Misfits to Curtis Mayfield amongst plenty of chat between songs from the typically charismatic Ted himself. Ted doesn't make the biggest effort to convert his songs for the solo environment, often playing relatively sparse solos that sound odd without a backing band holding the rhythm and melody it lies upon. This is more evident in some tracks than others. You don't need the full band effect to get the most out of a song like The Sword In The Stone, whereas a tune as busy as The High Party just sounds odd when the opening refrain continues right through to the verse. Only a handful of guitar solos survive the transition without the backing too. The big sound on Under The Hedge is perfect for this setting, its big open chord transitions making the solo a particular highlight, whilst the solo from the rambunctious Bleeding Powers is just flat without context.
The covers are picked depending on Ted's mood there and then, with their chosen breadth showing the wide range of styles that make up his eclectic taste. No matter who he's covering though, his style is always unmistakeably Ted. He even throws an old Chisel song into the set, playing a great rendition of The Town Crusher that still holds up over twelve years after its release and without the prevalent vocal harmony.
The new tracks show great promise for the March release of Ted's album The Brutalist Bricks, with One Polaroid A Day having single potential written all over it. There was good interaction with the audience, particularly those at the front who seemed mostly American and were making the most of getting in the song requests. One lady in the front row took it a step further and seemed to have dressed especially to give Ted the inspiration to give a solo performance of Little Dawn, which reluctantly Ted did.
The shining point of the set and arguably Ted's career was the blistering Timorous Me saved as the last song before the encores. The studio recording is mostly just Ted and a guitar anyway, but with countless people singing along and a unified feel across the audience, it felt that this was the exact environment the song was supposed to be performed in.