Ted Leo: Tiny Desk Concert Leo's work has, more often than not through the decades, addressed an anxious world, growing and shifting with it and with its listeners. Seven years after his last solo album, he's turned inwards.

Tiny Desk

Ted Leo

The Ted Leo who showed up to perform at our office this fall was no stranger to NPR Music; in fact, he'd stood on that very spot a few years earlier, trading verses with Aimee Mann in their collaborative project The Both. But he did seem like a changed man.

In the seven years since his last solo album, Leo has been steadily reevaluating his relationship with performance, the business of music and even his own voice. Over the applause that followed his opening number, the bone-rattling slow burn "Moon Out of Phase," he smiled and explained the song was perhaps "a little heavy for noon — but, practically speaking, it helps me get the cobwebs out."

How you listen to Leo depends on when his work came into your life. If you're a back-in-the-day type you might rep for Chisel, his '90s punk outfit born on the Notre Dame campus and bred in Washington, D.C. If you're just tuning in, you may have witnessed his understated comedy chops in arenas like The Best Show on WFMU and a highly enjoyable Twitter feed. At the center of this bell curve are those who found Leo at the dawn of the 2000s — when, at the helm of what's most commonly called Ted Leo and the Pharmacists (shout-out to the typographical variants still mucking up iTunes libraries), he kicked off a run of five stellar albums in just under 10 years, each one urgently attuned to its political context and yet defiant in its ideas of what punk could sound like and whose stories it could aim to tell. Fans will tell you the songs about eating disorders and missing old ska bands felt just as vital to their moment as those that explicitly took on Sept. 11 and the Iraq War.

Leo's latest, The Hanged Man, is different: Recorded at home in fits and starts, with Leo playing most of the instruments himself, the album comprises years of reflection, his gaze fixed more often on his own life than on the headlines. But what was evident in his performance here, which included two new songs and one gem from his classic period, was an enduring knack for turning internal anxiety into kinetic energy, no matter the subject. By the time he hit the first chorus of "Can't Go Back," a danceable bop about accepting that the life you have isn't quite the one you planned for, any remaining cobwebs had been scattered to the wind.

Set List

  • "Moon Out of Phase"

  • "Can't Go Back"

  • "I'm A Ghost"

Musicians

Ted Leo (vocals, guitar)

Credits

Producers: Daoud Tyler-Ameen, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Alyse Young; Editor: Bronson Arcuri; Production Assistant: Salvatore Maicki; Photo: Claire Harbage/NPR

For more Tiny Desk concerts, subscribe to our podcast.

[+] read more[-] less

More From Tiny Desk

Freddie Gibbs performs during a Tiny Desk concert, on Sept. 26, 2019. (Mhari Shaw/NPR) Mhari Shaw/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Mhari Shaw/NPR

Freddie Gibbs And Madlib

The enigmatic and reclusive producer Madlib joins hard-hitting emcee Freddie Gibbs for one of the most memorable Tiny Desks of the year.

Raphael Saadiq with Lucky Daye performs during Tiny Desk Fest, on Oct. 31, 2019. (Mhari Shaw/NPR) Mhari Shaw/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Mhari Shaw/NPR

Raphael Saadiq

The godfather of 21st century soul electrified NPR's Tiny Desk Fest audience, with a little help from rising R&B star Lucky Daye.

Sheryl Crow performs during Tiny Desk Fest, on Oct. 29, 2019. Mhari Shaw/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Mhari Shaw/NPR

Sheryl Crow

Sheryl Crow's Tiny Desk Fest concert included a handful of early hits that have become pop standards.

Megan Thee Stallion plays a Tiny Desk Concert (Laura Beltran Villamizar/NPR). Laura Beltran Villamizar/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Laura Beltran Villamizar/NPR

Megan Thee Stallion

The budding superstar debuted a new song with Phony Ppl and performed hits from Fever and Tina Snow during the first night of NPR's Tiny Desk Fest.

Black Uhuru plays a Tiny Desk Concert. Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Black Uhuru

The influential reggae group, whose name means "black freedom," brought songs of solidarity and love to the Tiny Desk.

Mereba performs during a Tiny Desk concert, on Sept. 17, 2019. Mhari Shaw/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Mhari Shaw/NPR

Mereba

A nomadic storyteller with a cross-genre style ranging from folk to rap, Mereba slays the devil in her solo set behind the Desk.

Carly Ray Jepsen performs during Tiny Desk on Nov. 13. (Photo by Mhari Shaw/NPR) Mhari Shaw/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Mhari Shaw/NPR

Carly Rae Jepsen

The singer brought a sparkling pop-disco vibe and a lot of swagger to the sun-filled Tiny Desk.

Igor Levit performs during a Tiny Desk concert, on Oct. 15, 2019. (Mhari Shaw/NPR) Mhari Shaw/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Mhari Shaw/NPR

Igor Levit

The insightful pianist offers a Beethoven bonanza, ranging from the mesmerizing pulse of the popular "Moonlight" Sonata to flashes of wry humor and tender beauty.

Snarky Puppy performs during a Tiny Desk Concert on Sept. 12, 2019. Emily Bogle/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Emily Bogle/NPR

Snarky Puppy

The jazz, funk and gospel improv group brought jams and joy to the Tiny Desk.

Burna Boy performs during a Tiny Desk concert on Sept. 16, 2019. Mhari Shaw/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Mhari Shaw/NPR

Burna Boy

The Nigerian singer and songwriter is one of the biggest African artists in the world and a pioneer of Afro-fusion, an inescapable sound this year.

Back To Top