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 had 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

Stella Donnelly performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Oct. 22, 2018. Cameron Pollack/NPR/Cameron Pollack/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Cameron Pollack/NPR/Cameron Pollack/NPR

Stella Donnelly

Watch the Australian singer-songwriter perform three new songs from her upcoming full-length debut, Beware of the Dogs.

Buddy performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Dec. 4, 2018 (Cameron Pollack/NPR). Cameron Pollack/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Cameron Pollack/NPR

Buddy

The preacher's son from Compton brought his flair for the dramatic, and an air of rebellion, to the Tiny Desk.

Amy Grant performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Nov. 7, 2018. Cameron Pollack/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Cameron Pollack/NPR

Amy Grant

Amy Grant maps her fabulous, four-decade career with some of her coziest and heartfelt Christmas songs, not to mention a delightful version of "Jingle Bells."

Trouble Funk performs a Tiny Desk concert on April 9, 2018. Eslah Attar/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Eslah Attar/NPR

Trouble Funk

We squeezed 12 go-go musicians behind the Tiny Desk. Watch what ensued.

Tyler Childers performs a Tiny Desk Concert on March 8, 2018 (Eslah Attar/NPR). Eslah Attar/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Eslah Attar/NPR

Tyler Childers

Tyler Childers writes songs about hard lives and hard love with direct heart and a soulful Kentucky drawl.

Vagabon performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Jan. 31, 2018 (Jenna Sterner/NPR). Jenna Sterner/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jenna Sterner/NPR

Vagabon

Laetitia Tamko, the artist known as Vagabon, is a 25-year-old, Cameroon-born musician with a big, tenor voice just bursting with new musical ideas.

Big Daddy Kane performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Jan. 8, 2018 (Claire Harbage/NPR). Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Big Daddy Kane

One of the greatest to ever bless the mic treated the Tiny Desk audience to an office block party.

Betsayda Machado performs a Tiny Desk concert on Oct. 20, 2017. Jennifer Kerrigan/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jennifer Kerrigan/NPR

Betsayda Machado y Parranda El Clavo

The Afro-Venezuelan collective brings the boisterous parranda sound to the Tiny Desk.

Nick Hakim performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Dec. 13, 2018 (Jennifer Kerrigan/NPR). Jennifer Kerrigan/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Jennifer Kerrigan/NPR

Nick Hakim

The music of Nick Hakim occupies a space and time that feels out of this world, with songs that explore the quietude of inner thoughts.

Back To Top