Chicago’s Lincoln Hall has been open for a bit, but that didn’t stop Ted Leo & The Pharmacists from bringing the club to life. On October 25, Leo et al played the slightly-belated Grand Opening as they do any other show: with a fistful of punk fun. The quartet seemed poised for action, with Leo and guitarist James Canty practically hopping on air while furiously trashing out licks to “Heart Problems” and “Where Have All The Rude Boys Gone?” within the first handful of songs. The group moved swiftly through songs from their lengthy discography, soon to be a little bit larger with a new set of tunes that were sprinkled throughout the set. The new tracks are strong enough to keep the crowd engaged and are a bit of a heavier affair than Leo & Co.’s recent output: “Where Was my Brain?” in particular has a thick, old school punk feel along the lines of The Damned that is sure to keep punk purists peppy.
The set wasn’t perfect – drummer Chris Wilson’s kick drum suddenly died in the middle of a new song that sent the rest of the band into a five-minute side jam, but one that displayed the group’s ardent pleasure of performing under the oddest of pressures. Fortunately, the dead kick drum was a rare bad splotch in a thoroughly enjoyable set. Throughout it all, the now-mohawked Leo peppered the show with oft-awkward conversation and entertaining anecdotes of experiences with an ex’s parents, providing a down-to-earth feel that the fairly intimate space that is Lincoln Hall appears to foster.
The intimacy of the evening was rounded out with the encore, during which Leo performed a couple of cover songs solo, including an (in Leo’s own words) “emo” cover of The Waterboys’ “Fisherman’s Blues” that was as heartfelt as any original song the man performed last evening. As The Pharmacists rejoined Leo for a stirring rendition of “Little Dawn,” it certainly felt like Lincoln Hall will be a welcome part of the Chicago music community – especially if bands as great as Ted Leo/RX are on the bill.