Peter Noone at Birchmere
What the world needs now is la-la-las, sweet la-la-las. Peter Noone, the man even John Lennon knew only as "Herman" for his stewardship over the Hermits, brought a lifetime's worth of 'em to the Birchmere on Thursday.
The Manchester, England-based Herman's Hermits made it to our shores in 1965 in the wake of the Beatles. From the start, Noone was a solo act waiting to happen. "Of all the groups from England, I like yours the very best and that even includes The Beatles," a Hermaniac named Jan S. wrote Noone in a September 1965 issue of Tiger Beat. "But all I want to know is, don't you think it would be better if you were a solo singer?" Noone, being a nice guy, didn't ditch the band until the end of the decade. He's been touring off and on and reprising Merseybeat songs ever since.
Dressed in a sunshine-yellow blazer and black pleather pants and backed by a youngish quartet, Noone, 56, showed he can still croon like an adolescent while rekindling the band's first single, the Carole King-penned "I'm Into Something Good." For better or worse, today's teens can't find anything on the charts with lines like, "I asked to see her next week and she told me I could." Other 45s from the band -- "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter," "Silhouettes" and, of course, "I'm Henry VIII, I Am" -- still ooze innocence.
And when not giggling through slightly blue jokes or thanking the audience for remembering him, Noone threw himself into tunes tied to other British Invasion acts: "Dandy" by the Kinks, "Love Potion No. 9" by the Searchers, and "For Your Love," a hit for the Yardbirds that Noone said his band had passed on first. At night's end, he popped off a few bars of the Sex Pistols' "Pretty Vacant" -- an early punk song that helped push sweetness out of vogue in British pop music -- before restoring the bliss with "There's a Kind of Hush." He rendered its last verse without words, except for all the la-la-las.
-- Dave McKenna
Ted Leo at the Black Cat
The hottest club in town Thursday night, literally, had to be the Black Cat. Maybe there was a problem with the air conditioning, or maybe it was just the enthusiasm of a capacity crowd for smart-guy rocker Ted Leo and his (for now) two-piece band, the Pharmacists. Whatever the cause, it was a sticky, sweaty and awfully smoky affair. (How is it, by the way, that a smart-guy rocker can have so many young fans who smoke?)
A hardcore and indie-rock veteran who used to call Washington home, Leo has broken out in the past few years with a couple of fine CDs: last year's "Hearts of Oak" and 2001's "The Tyranny of Distance." During a set that lasted a bit more than an hour, he and his band mates, bassist Dave Lerner and drummer Chris Wilson, tackled older material as well as songs from an album to be released this fall.
Tackled is probably the appropriate word, as there is a real physicality to Leo's slashing, jarring style. It borrows from the herky-jerky delivery of the Jam, the freewheeling spirit of the Who and the Clash's unbridled political fury. When he sings, Leo's face contorts as if he's stuck in a wind tunnel, and his voice is a plaintive yowl that reminds you of Joe Jackson's earliest days. It's a style that does justice to such lyrics as "It's times like this when a neck looks for a knife," from "Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?" Later Leo ended one song by singing the words "It's all right" about 100 times. That might sound like a colossal bore, but there was a real majesty to the moment.
A couple of moronic hecklers did their best to ruin the show from the back of the crowded room, but thankfully Leo either didn't hear them or ignored them. Maybe they weren't feeling his songs. Maybe it was just the heat.
-- Joe Heim