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'An evening with Ted Leo' at the Center for the Arts on Sunday February 20th

This ‘Evening with Ted Leo’ organized by FYF at the Center for the Arts in Eagle Rock was an epic thing, with a little bit of everything, not really a concert, but rather a series of performances with musicians and stand-up comedians, culminating with a Q&A between Ted Leo and Keith Morris.

The show had sold out during Sunday afternoon and when I arrived at the Center for the Arts, there was a ridiculously long line to get in, but once inside, I easily found my way to the front, close to the stage. Keith Morris was DJ-ing some tunes from the Who and other rock oldies, and very soon Ted Leo took the stage and started playing. He played solo, with his electric resonating guitar, announcing that he would only played a few songs, than would leave the stage for other performers before coming back.

It was an unexpected show with impromptu interruptions, like comedian Paul F. Tompkins’ one, who arrived during Ted Leo’s performance, playing an Andy Kaufman-esque Broadway musical producer, with flamboyance and grandiloquence. Reginald Van Voorst (his stage name), producer of the failed Ted Leo and the Pharmacists Broadway musical, discussed many of his new projects with Leo, ‘If four more Spiderman die, I’m out’ was a funny line, and ‘Punk on Broadway? Not my idea!… wrong band anyway’ was another one. The duo ended up with a crazy cover of the Sex Pistols’ ‘Anarchy in the UK’, with Tompkins on vocals.


Many other stand-up comedians, Jonah Ray, Kumail Nanjiani, Jen Kirkman, Nick Flanagan and the Sklar Brothers took the stage during the night, more or less funny, but most people were loudly enjoying the jokes, especially the scatologic-sex ones of course…. Er, but what is left to comics without sex, race and filth?

Another musician performed between this collection of funny people, Michael Runion, a young songwriter who has just formed a new band, the Chances, with two ladies named Sara and Julia. He sang his quiet and pretty melancholic-storytelling ballads with an acoustic guitar and the help of Sara, harmonizing on vocals

Ted Leo came back for a few songs, which he ferociously sang with the same sense of emergency and his unique direct style, half angry, half polite. His nervous distorted guitar and his expressive delivery made his electric set captivating and efficient, and will probably grant him the title of last punk hero; although he would certainly be very reluctant to accept this title, as he sings in ‘The Sword in the Stone’, a song he played during his set, ‘It’s just like any other job where there gonna pay for your time/You better walk around, ’cause no one’s gonna drive you home/I’m not impressed with your desire to be the biggest in the bowl/You’ll still just be a little shit in a world that’s just a big shit hole’.

Among others, he also performed ‘Bottled in Cork’, ‘The High Party’, ‘One Polaroid a day’, ’Bleeding Powers’, ‘A Bottle of Buckie’, ‘Timorous me’, as well as two covers, ‘Do anything you wanna do’ from Eddie and the hot rods, and ‘6 Months in a leaky boat’ from Split Enz’, and a new song which contained ‘Supper’ in its title.

His politically engaged lyrics, and the desire to stay true to himself that transpires in his songs was a perfect introduction to the following Q&A with Keith Morris, from Black Flag, Circle Jerks and now OFF! fame.
‘Are we re-enacting the poster?’ asked Morris at the beginning of the discussion. I have to say that the poster advertising the evening was showing Ted Leo interviewing Woody Allen, Johnny Carson style. Morris said later he was half-Jewish, so I guess it could have worked.
Ted Leo started the conversation about his awkward feeling to be defined as punk, two decades later after ‘Nevermind’, his uneasiness to go into punk music when there is already a long history covering several decades. Keith Morris, with his usual direct talk, said he wanted to throw ‘a bullet through the myth’, as he does not define himself as punk or hardcore. When he started his first band in 1976, he was ‘just in a room’, and his music turned out as it turned out, without any sense of history in the making. ‘I grew up with teenagers getting fucked up by authorities,… we didn’t know we were creating a scene, we let it happen’. Morris has eclectic tastes in music, as he was proving it during his DJ time, and ‘punks’, at that time, were listening to all kinds of music, and even the punk band X was playing Americana and blues.
Morris does not like genres, he does not want to be called punk, but said he still has good reasons to be angry! ‘When I get depressed, I go on Broadway (a downtown street in LA where a lot of homeless people live), and I say there’s nothing bad about my life’,…‘I’m not punk, I’m a human being first’, he almost yelled at one point with conviction. Morris hasn’t lost any of his politico-social consciousness, as he showed it during the whole Q&A.
They both agreed on the fact that music was an effective use of their voices for politic issues, but Morris teased Leo a little bit on that point, saying they were using different parts of their soul, showing the forehead and the heart for Leo, and the heart and the guts for himself,… ‘Yes, with your English degree!’ it was almost a reproach, as if he was criticizing Leo to write literary lyrics. Leo answered it was not fair, that circumstances had given him this degree but that it was a ‘challenge to take his brain out of the equation’.

It was Morris’ turn to ask a question and he asked Leo when he has had the feeling to be the ‘Michael Jordan of his genre’. ‘You end up in that zone for most shows that don’t go poorly!’ said Leo. But Morris insisted, he wanted to get more from him: ‘When did a band got its awe moment and said they couldn’t play after you?… ‘I can’t answer that! I am not aware of that!’ exclaimed Leo.
It was a good time to talk about their heroes, although Joe Strummer said you are not supposed to have heroes, remarked Leo. So without using the term hero, they talked about people whom they admire and respect and who came to their shows. Leo mentioned Alec MacKaye, Ian’s brother, who is a constant presence at his Washington shows. And Morris told a story about Joe Strummer, ordering drinks in a bar, and approaching him by saying how meaningful his body of work was to him. ‘He was not supposed to know me!’ ‘But you have fans in high place’ said Leo, ‘Isn’t Black Sabbath’s drummer a fan of Circle of Jerks?’

They also talked about politics, the Tea Party, Wisconsin workers, the ‘huge pile of shit’ the president has inherited of, and Morris proclaimed his admiration for Billy Bragg he recently saw in Texas, ‘I was in tears,… and I had never paid attention before’.

They also talked about Keith Morris ‘s health, as he is a diabetic type II, insulin dependent, having risked hypoglycemia coma on stage several times. He even told about an accident in Norway, when he was invited to sing with the band Turbo Negro. He ended up staying seven days at the hospital, because they do have ‘socialized medicine’ in Norway!
I’m not sure it was supposed to happen, but people in the crowd began to participate, asking Morris what was the meaning behind ‘White Minority’, a sort of joke played on the fact that they were the only white guys at Hermosa Beach. Morris got a little excited when asked about ‘Making the bomb’, a Circle Jerks’ song, but basically explained he loved America, but hated the government.
‘Why did you leave Black Flag?’ asked someone in the audience. ‘I was burnt down on their work ethic! I was losing all the arguments! It was counterproductive’ answered Morris, who at this point was the central interest,… er, wasn’t it an evening with Ted Leo?
‘But it’s about you’ said Morris to Leo at this point of the discussion, and Ted Leo took his guitar again to play a few more songs to close the long night.

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