After a late start by openers and working against a venue curfew, Ted Leo & the Pharmacists powered through their set with a minimum of stage banter, hammering away double-time with an urgency that left the studio tracks feeling slack in contrast.
Leo and crew ripped into the evening right from the start with “The Sons of Cain,” from their 2007 release Living with the Living. The four-piece then upped the momentum with the anthemic “Me and Mia,” which garnered an epic crowd reaction in a night full of cathartic sing-alongs.
Drummer Chris Wilson worked in tandem with Leo in setting the evening's burning tempo with tight work on the spare six-piece kit.
Even with chatter kept brief, Ted Leo charmed the audience like a more endearing and less crazy version of Hugh Laurie's House. Playing to a room dominated by university students, Leo dropped bombs and allusions alike, jabbing back with a reference to Melville's “Bartleby the Scrivener” without missing a beat after a fan's request for Moby Dick.
Marty Key from the Richmond group Young Pioneers picked up the duties of bass after the departure of long-time band member Dave Lerner in August.
Drenched in sweat and gasping to catch his breath after some songs, Ted Leo seemed to maintain the fever pitch of the set by sheer force of will.
As Leo invited the crowd to “Stretch out your legs and dance with me all night” in “Little Dawn” from 2004's Shake the Sheets, the room eagerly complied, right up until curfew. Amid all the social and political disquiet raised in the evening's other songs, when the Ted Leo began reciting the song's reassuring mantra “it's alright” in metered waves, it was hard not to believe him.
As with most all other events at the Gargoyle, lighting for the event was difficult at best, a factor further complicated by the explosive performance of Ted Leo & the Pharmacists.
Despite the relatively slow aperture for a venue like this, I used the steadfast Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8, simply because the range of which was perfectly suited to the close quarters of the event. Especially useful was the 17mm end of the zoom, which was wide enough to capture full-length shots of Ted Leo while standing just over a meter away.
Shutter speeds for the f/2.8 lens hovered around 1/100 second at ISO 1600 with about a stop of underesposure.
In addition, I used my Nikon 85mm f/1.4 the Sigma 30mm f/1.4, the latter of which is on extended loan to my from my bro and fellow concert photographer, Chris. The wide aperture of this pair let me shoot while the lights were dimmed, while the 85mm added a bit of range to the three-lens kit for tight shots of Ted Leo, guitarist James Canty, and drummer Chris Wilson.
As a venue that quite literally inhabits a converted cafeteria space in the basement of a university's student center, the lighting for the event was poor at best. Two arrays of four lights lit the stage from the front, utilizing red, yellow, green, and blue gels. The green-dominated combinations produced the worst lighting, while the yellow usage was generally the most tolerable.
One constant challenge throughout the night Ted Leo's constant facial contortions as he sang in his characteristic falsetto at breakneck speeds. Combined with his close mix position and rocking motion, Ted Leo was a moving target that complicated the already tough shooting conditions.
I found rapidfire bursting to be the most effective solution for this factor, and the Nikon D2X's seven frames per second continuous rate very useful in this regard. I always shoot in continuous mode, rather than single shot, since it's just as easy to lay off the shutter release as it is to smash it down to later cherry-pick the best expressions.
For the full set of images from the show, hit the Flickr.