By Lindsay Zoladz | 17 May 2011
Ted Leo’s solo performances always manage to combine the chatty intimacy of an episode of VH1 Storytellers with the friendly energy of a homecoming show. This last bit might be true because, in the spirit of the wandering narrator in his classic “Ballad of the Sin Eater,” so many different places consider Leo an honorary hometown boy: New Jersey, Indiana, Boston, and of course DC, where Leo briefly lived when playing with mid-‘90s emocore band Chisel. Which is enough of a local connection that when someone in the back of the crowd yelled, “Welcome home!” on Saturday night, he was not terribly off the mark.
The night had many highlights: “Under the Hedge,” “Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?”, an acoustic sing-along of “Bottled and Cork,” and repeat appearances from Leo’s Paul Stanley impression. The smallness of the room (he played in the Black Cat’s first-floor backstage space) allowed for Leo to casually entertain conversations with people in the crowd (“I’m from Providence.” / “Cool.”), concluding, when they got too long, with the congenial refrain, “Email me.” His set was pretty similar to the solo set he played in that very room three years ago, but I didn’t mind. The greatest charm of seeing Leo solo is not the obscure B-side he may or may not throw at you mid-set; it’s the realization of how well his material translates with no adornments other than a dependable Gibson ES-335, a couple of distortion pedals, and a voice like white knuckles wrapped around a power chord. The best thing Ted Leo’s ever had going for him is urgency, and his solo arrangements are direct transmissions of that incomparable punk virtue. Leo’s a great performer in any context, but I think I’ve gotten to the point where I look forward to his solo shows most.