FNR presents Ted Leo in biggest show yet

by Carl Burnett | 5/12/05 5:00am

If Friday Night Rock's first year was about building a fan base at Dartmouth, then its second year has been about trying to bring those fans exactly what they want.

After a 2004-05 lineup that has included cult favorites like Enon, the Wrens, Mates of State and Xiu Xiu, FNR is set to host its highest-profile show yet when Ted Leo and the Pharmacists play in Fuel at 9:30 on Friday night. According to fan site tedleoguide.com, this will be the band's first-ever performance in the state of New Hampshire.

Vermont-based jazz-rock instrumentalists the Casino have been slated as the opening act.

The hyper-literate Leo will probably never be a household name, but he's one of the most beloved figures in indie music, releasing a string of well-reviewed albums that combine Leo's punk roots with what he's called his "perpetual English major" sensibility.

At a meeting Tuesday night, FNR organizers anticipated that Leo would draw the biggest crowd in the concert series' relatively brief history. They even discussed the possibility of turning away non-Dartmouth students if the venue fills up too quickly. (The room's official capacity is just 100 people.)

The announcement of the concert has already created what general manager Mat Brown '05 describes as "cross-campus buzz." He says that this is the first FNR concert he thinks will appeal to "a sizeable minority" of the campus.

"It's rare for Dartmouth to welcome such a subtle and sincere musician," campus rock fan Mike Salter '06 said. "I mean, all of the music that PB brings us, a lot of it I respond with, 'Yeah, I like that,' but none of it really speaks to me personally. Ted Leo's sincerity and passion absolutely permeates his albums and siphons into your brain."

Leo began his career in the late-'80s D.C. punk scene, where he played with several local bands before gaining national recognition with the group Chisel in the mid-'90s.

Chisel dissolved after releasing two highly-regarded albums, and Leo briefly played with his brother in a band they called the Sin Eaters. He then recorded a solo album in 1999, the confusingly-titled "tej (?) leo, Rx / pharmacists."

But it was Leo's string of three albums and two EP's with his new band the Pharmacists that brought his music to the attention of rock fans outside the punk subculture. On 2001's "The Tyranny of Distance" -- regarded by many as Leo's best work -- big guitar hooks and catchy melodies coexist alongside fuzzy, introspective ballads, all delivered with Leo's trademark scratchy-voiced yowl. The next Pharmacists album, 2003's "Hearts of Oak," yielded one of the year's standout tracks, "Ballad of the Sin Eater," a five-minute white-boy travelogue of the third world that's almost certainly the only rock song ever to employ the phrase "beau geste." The band also released their latest full-length, "Shake the Sheets," last year.

Publicity director Pam Cortland '06 called the concert a "marker point" in FNR's history. For many of the organizers, the show holds personal relevance.

"[Leo] has always been one of my favorite musicians, and to be able to bring him to Dartmouth feels like the culmination of several terms' hard work," Cortland said.

Booking manager Don Stewart '06 sometimes gets irritated when people ask him if booking a nationally-known act like Leo is a difficult task.

"Securing a band is not that hard unless they're dead or from Sweden," Stewart said. "Friday Night Rock has a good history with certain agencies, particularly now that we have enough change in our pockets to make things happen." Stewart is referring to the funds that the organization received thanks in part to the Programming Board's co-sponsorship of FNR events.

Stewart asserts that, often, the hard part is coming up with bands that will please a majority of the music-listening population at Dartmouth. In his booking, he tries to represent the interests of FNR as broadly as possible while maintaining the organization's taste-making image.

"Bands that everyone knows are good are a bit more expensive and hard to come by," Stewart said, "but it's what people up here want to see."