Ted Leo, Torres and Tegan and Sara provide the perfect antidote for this year’s political hangover 

click to enlarge Ted Leo

Photo by James Dechert

Ted Leo

So, how did you spend your first week of a new Trump reality? I spent mine watching a leftist intellectual firebrand and a culture-changing lesbian pop act rock the fuck out.

Also, TLU is on break next week, but it's to make room for our grand Local Music Issue!

THE BEAT

A truth about music acts: Most are pretty easily categorized. There are a lot out there who really, adorably try to resist taxonomy, but it's usually not hard to box them. East Coast original Ted Leo, however, is one of the rare ones. It's simple enough to cite the punk fire in his belly, or his gutsy folk intellect. But there's something else in his blindingly exuberant songs that's even more essential and defining that transcends genre tags. Comb through the most acrobatic rock critic's lexicon all you want but you still won't be able to lasso that particular, quintessential Ted Leo thing. So that's all you can call it.

Another musical truth: Very few artists sound as good solo as they do with a full band. Now Leo doesn't trump – sorry, too soon – um, defy this axiom. But he comes exhilaratingly close. Again, that's because he's Ted Leo, and only he boils over with molten heart quite like this. And a flame, that flame, does anything but lose its heat or burn when you remove the layers.

In fact, this recent individual performance (Nov. 13, Will's Pub) was the Ted Leo experience as pure, unfiltered and personal as I've ever seen. After the national devastation last week, this room was filled on a Sunday because we all needed this, and he acknowledged it before even playing a note. Then he proceeded to obliterate the collective pall with gusting vigor and indomitable life.

Over and over, Leo's performances prove him to be a raw, thoughtful and real artist and person with no compulsion to bloat or hide it. It's why he's as much a folk hero as he is a cult hero.

I'm good with Tegan and Sara (Nov. 14, the Beacham) going full-on pop. Their effervescent songwriting was already headed that way a long time ago. What I genuinely love about it, though, is that they're taking the mainstream. Yes, they make pop music that's enjoyable. But, more importantly, popular culture needs them.

The world is still reeling from the election, and the outlook of the next four years feels like a perilous lifetime. But I just stood in a line that rounded the block to watch two lesbians rock a big, fanatic and fairly vanilla audience as if it's something that's always happened. Seeing things like this convince me that this current specter of cultural regression is a hiccup, a violent one, but not a paradigm. History at large is moving in another way than these election results, and it's a much more beautiful future. Roll on.

But I've seen Tegan and Sara before. Musically, the Orlando debut of opener Torres was what I really came for. Torres is the musical vehicle of Brooklyn transplant Mackenzie Scott that's being showered with both accolades and PJ Harvey comparisons. The references are so unanimous you'd think everyone was just dogpiling. But when you make raw and unpredictable rock music and record your last album (2015's Sprinter) with Harvey's own rhythm section of producer-drummer Rob Ellis and bassist Ian Oliver, well, they're inevitable.

Torres' sound is music that's made to stir, evoke, provoke even. If it happens to please you as it sometimes does, fine. But this isn't just basic pop ear candy. These are deep, dark, often intense waters. On stage, this full-band performance was rich with atmosphere, texture and tension. Even in the lovely stretches, there's always the sense that it can be knocked sideways – even stabbed and gutted – at any moment, as she did to climax the set. But wherever her music goes, however it makes you feel, it's pure temptation. Mackenzie Scott is only 25 years old but she's already in the thick of the brightest class of game-changing indie-rock women in years.

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