- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 5, 2006

It’s still early in this busy summer concert season, but the combination of Ted Leo + Pharmacists and Scottish pop perfectionists Belle and Sebastian is looking like one of the most thrilling shows for fans of nonconformist rock. The bands join opener Broken Social Scene on Saturday at Merriweather Post Pavilion.

After eight years of producing one inspired disc after another, Ted Leo + Pharmacists are finally getting noticed outside of independent rock circles and are landing invites to perform at premier live events.

In addition to a frenzied tour schedule as a headline act, Mr. Leo, bassist Dave Lerner and drummer Chris Wilson played a set at April’s internationally admired Coachella music and arts festival in Indio, Calif., which boasted more high-wattage talent in two days than most venues see all year.

Credit the band’s long-standing reputation for exhausting, cathartic performances and Mr. Leo’s expert lyricism for the popularity surge. With a poet’s soul and a muckraker’s passion for his truth, Mr. Leo lives to rip back the curtain on political corruption and misdeeds. Few musicians share his skill for channeling unflinching ideals into anthems while avoiding preachy, didactic posing.

Mr. Leo and Mr. Wilson radiate the rawness of D.C. hard-core punk during live shows while Mr. Lerner stands still, his demeanor and towering bass lines serving as ballast to the blurs of motion.

The group’s most recent disc, “Shake the Sheets,” captured the attention of music tastemakers. Released just before the 2004 presidential election, the swells of enraged guitar and pointedly progressive themes resonate among disaffected Americans. Most troubling, there are no heroes in the halls of Congress, Republican or Democrat.

“I feel defeated here by everything / Cheated here by everyone on every side… When will we get an hour to celebrate / Find the time to breathe a sigh?” Mr. Leo sings on the title track.

But there’s hope amid the disaffection, and it’s not of the hokey, Hollywood-manufactured variety. Mr. Leo never disengages from his rootsy perspectives, and he offers a rope but never promises an instant fix.

He looks to the future on “Walking to Do,” the album’s optimistic closer: “I see the road is long / So get on my side / There’s a whole lot of walking to do / And if we stay on our feet / We’ll make it in our own time.”

Locally, the band enjoys a large following that dates back to the mid-1990s, when Mr. Leo lived in the area and played in the mod-inspired group Chisel. He returns frequently to perform at the Black Cat and the annual Fort Reno concert series in Northwest. As a special shout-out to his D.C. supporters, the “Shake the Sheets” CD booklet includes photos from a frenetic July 2004 Fort Reno gig.

• • •

Belle and Sebastian’s earlier gigs could rarely be labeled frenetic, but that’s changed following the release of 2003’s “Dear Catastrophe Waitress” and this year’s “The Life Pursuit.”

The Glasgow-based band’s sophisticated lyrics and skillfully crafted pop, ubiquitously referred to as “fey” and “bookish,” was better suited to intimate music clubs than spacious outdoor venues. But the two most recent discs prove the group is prepared to fill Merriweather with confident and, dare we say it, even boisterous clap-along songs.

Recorded in Los Angeles and produced by Tony Hoffer, “The Life Pursuit” luxuriates in sunny harmonies, impeccably placed horns and a distinctly ‘70s vibe. Anchored by Stuart Murdoch’s wit and his knack for character descriptions, Belle and Sebastian successfully apply glam rock’s sparkle makeup and oversexed riffs during “The Blues are Still Blue” but stumble with a Sly & the Family Stone clone (“Song for Sunshine”). The band redeems itself with the rowdy “White Collar Boy,” the triumphant one-way romance track “Funny Little Frog” and the creepy details of “Sukie in the Graveyard.”

• • •

Amy Domingues is staying busy this summer. The Arlington-based cellist and composer performed with indie sensation Cat Power in Philadelphia and the District in June, and she has two local shows scheduled so far, including a Monday date at the Black Cat. She’ll perform with her band Garland of Hours, in which she plays piano, cello and sings.

Able to adopt a wide range of styles, Miss Domingues has backed some of the area’s most popular artists, including Fugazi and Bob Mould. Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty mixed Garland of Hours’ new disc, which features guest vocals from another local star, Mary Timony.

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