Live: "Indie-Rock Karaoke" with Ted Leo and Andrew W.K.
photo borrowed from the generous dudes at Stereogum
Featuring Ted Leo & the Pharmacists
After almost three hours of non-stop sing-alongs last night, Studio B was a third full and Andrew W.K. was trading Ultimate Warrior impressions with a fat guy in an ironic (?) grandma sweater while Ted Leo and the Pharmacists played Amerie's "One Thing." Imagine that dream you had after plugging away at "Black Magic Woman" on Guitar Hero for six hours before bed--except now it's weirder and Andrew W.K.'s there. The marathon charity show/New York ad-rate booster made several things clear: 1) Ted Leo is the most benevolent man alive, 2) Andrew W.K. should replace Randy Jackson as American Idol's other judge, and 3) three hours of karaoke is too much karaoke (unless you're one-time America's Next Top Model good girl Shandi Sullivan, who did a decent anorexic-chic version of "Just Like Heaven" early on and could be seen clapping her hands in the pseudo-VIP until the very end).
Ted Leo is something of a pop savant. In 2003, I saw him blitz through a solo electric version of the Replacements' "Can't Hardly Wait" in Chicago because he "heard it on the juke box a few minutes ago." Then, at the Music Hall last year, he pulled "Rave On" out of his hat after a blottoed stage crasher dropped his paperback Buddy Holly biography in the midst of a striptease. So good for New York for picking the right guy to play back-up for this year's Williamsburg Idol. (He also played an hour-long set of Ted Leo songs before the karaoke expo, but nobody really cared.) The song list--from Joy Division to Prince to Kelly Clarkson--was crowd pleasing, and smart. Ted and his three Pharmacists probably could've just shown up and gotten away with an ok version of "Reelin' in the Years," but they nailed it along with pretty much everything else.
When you're a stout MacKaye lifer getting ready to yell "Minor Threat" to a bunch of strangers, Ted Leo is the guy you want smiling and shouting along behind you--maybe even more than MacKaye himself. All night, Ted played dream big brother while soothing nerves and guiding youths of varied levels of inebriation and preparedness. The band earned the right to call out that couple who stumbled through "Dancing in the Dark" or the dude who inexplicably massacred Ted's own "Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?" but--of course--they didn't.
The most endearing moments all had something to do with the classic punk Ted grew up losing his voice to. When a guest singer admitted to his bridge-and-tunnel status before kicking around Stiff Little Fingers' "Suspect Device," it was poignant; it's great to turn in a practiced take on, say, "Fortunate Son," but nobody would pay tolls to play that song with Ted Leo. New Jersey, however, would (and did) fill up the Nissan for "Hybrid Moments," "Minor Threat" and "Where the Eagles Dare." Ted gave those dudes hugs. Most everyone else got an enthused handshake or high five.
Andrew W.K., it turns out, is in great shape. He's also hilarious and, as you may have heard, quite energetic. And, you know, Positive. In less benign hands, his self-help blathering would come across as very "recovered alcoholic stalker." But, as is, he's just a goofball with a startling knack for TV-ready puns. After "Minor Threat": "That was not a minor threat--that was a major threat!" "Rock the Casbah": "The Casbah has been rocked!" "Reelin' in the Years": "We reeled in all the years!" And so on. Between him and Ted, even the shittiest performers (hi, "Dancin' With Myself" couple!) left the stage feeling like they accomplished something. The feel-good vibes were refreshing but, after two amateur hours, I was pining for a few Apollo-style send-offs.
Did I mention the karaoke lasted three hours ... without intermission? Even with Ted and Andrew moving everything along as professionally as possible, by the time some dude came with a passable "L.E.S. Artists" well into hour three my mind had drifted to a vague comedy sketch involving Andrew W.K. at the Holocaust Museum. But guess who wasn't tired. On the final song, "Born in the U.S.A.," Ted's eyes were shut--intense--as he sang the verses. There was no microphone in front of him. Then he hopped on drums for a coda while Andrew briefly took over on bass. "Life is all about having a lot of dying before you fun," flubbed Andrew at one point. We got it. -- Ryan Dombal