Live Last Night: Future of the Left/Ted Leo/Against Me!

I wish there were more shows like last night's triple bill at the Black Cat. Three decent-to-very-good bands, with my interest in said bands being inverse to headlining status. That way I can get close for the band I'm interested in, while the crowd is still filling in, and treat the rest of the evening as a bonus.

My thoughts on the three acts are after the jump.

First up was Future of the Left a Welsh trio featuring two members of the late, great Mclusky.

The main differences between the two bands are: 1) In FotL, there are a couple of songs in which Andy Falkous plays a keyboard instead of guitar; 2) Falkous and the bassist haven't grown to hate each other. Other than that, it's pretty much the same, and that is a very, very good thing.

Future of the Left gets a lot out of a little, a real economy of sound. To use a dorky design metaphor, the band makes great use of the musical equivalent of white space. Sometimes there will just be bass and drums, sometimes just drums while Falkous and bassist Kelson Mathias shout in unison. Those moments of emptiness make the sharp blasts of guitar and pummeling drums in songs like "Small Bones Small Bodies" and "Real Men Hunt in Packs" all the more intense. It's tempting to describe Future of the Left as angry, but that wouldn't be accurate. I'd say agitated is more like it. Falkous's lyrics can be as biting and vicious as the squall he coaxed from his guitar while he attacked it with a drumstick during the band's last song, but everything is delivered with a existential cynicism. Man, that sure sounds unappealing, doesn't it? How's this instead: Inside the band's tour-only live CD, Falkous writes, "This album exists to fulfill two purposes, mainly to document the live experience of our band but also to give us an object to sell from behind the merchandise desk, something which isn't a cheap clothing or fashion item with 'Future of the Left' stenciled apologetically in the middle." That's the attitude that sums up FotL.

Second was Ted Leo/Pharmacists. Sometimes I feel like I've seen Ted Leo more than my mom over the past decade. (Sorry, Mom, I really should visit more. It would help if the baseball team was better.) At this point, it's hard to get too excited for a Ted gig; but, like clockwork, three songs into it I was won over by his charm and his perfectly pleasing mod-pop.

The seemingly-permanent addition of James Canty on guitar really helps fill out the songs, and Leo's voice remains as elastic as ever. I wish he'd vary his set a bit -- it seems like "Where Have all the Rudeboys Gone?," "Me and Mia," and "Angels Share" are played all the time -- but the man always gives you everything he's got and he's been doing that for 18 years. He even brought Alec MacKaye up on stage for the final song of the set to play (presumably) an old D.C. punk song that someone who used to work at the City Paper could probably identify.

Against Me! headlined, but playing in Leo's (sort of, kind of) hometown meant that a good portion of the audience cleared out after his set. Still, there were still plenty of kids up front singing along to the band's straightforward punk anthems, hands in the air, but abiding by the countless "NO STAGEDIVING" signs taped to the walls of the Black Cat.

As a contrast to what Falkous said in those liner notes above, Against Me! had more items of merchandise for sale than there are people at many shows I attend.

There was more to their songs than churning guitars and sing-along choruses, but not that much more. I kept thinking the songs reminded me of Matt Freeman's contributions to Rancid. He's the gruff-voiced bassist who doesn't quite have the knack for hooks that his bandmates have. So when all of the songs are like that, it gets old after 30 minutes. And since I didn't have to wait around to see who I came to see, I simply left.

By David Malitz |  October 9, 2008; 5:41 PM ET Live Last Night
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Pretty much spot-on regarding the show. I might have liked Against Me! a bit more than Malitz but was definitely there first and foremost to see Future of the Left. They didn't disappoint. And I did leave with a cheap T-shirt with Future of the Left stenciled apologetically on the top left.

Posted by: Schneid | October 10, 2008 8:56 AM

By the time I realized Future of the Left were on the bill the show had sold out. Hopefully they'll come around again. Mclusky were in their time one of the best live acts (not named Les Savy Fav) around.

Posted by: MN | October 10, 2008 2:34 PM

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