Ted Leo and the Pharmacists are not your typical Lookout Records punk band. Although their newest album, The Tyranny of Distance, may have been released by the label that brought the world Green Day, Operation Ivy and the Donnas, Leo and company have an entirely different take on punk rock. Their brand of punk harks back to the days after the Sex Pistols and before hardcore, when "punk rock" still allowed for melody and fancy chords. Leo's turns of phrase and inventive song structures compare favorably with late-'70s/early-'80s smart rockers such as XTC and Squeeze (with "Timorous Me" being perhaps the best song Nick Lowe never wrote), and his clear, emotive tenor recalls later cynical popsters the Housemartins. Fortunately the band doesn't rely on cleverness alone, playing their songs with passion and punk energy. As Leo sings in "The Great Communicator," "It's the sonics, not the phonics/and it's all in the delivery." (If you can't catch their set at the Rocket Bar later that night, check out their 6 p.m. in-store appearance at Vintage Vinyl.)Also performing are DeSoto Records stars Juno, whose latest release, A Future Lived in Past Tense, finds them imbuing the familiar DC post-hardcore sound with shoegazerish guitars and odd spoken interludes. Bonus points are duly awarded to Juno for including a photo of the Gateway Arch in the album's artwork.
Opening the show is the peripherally local Stepleader. With some recent touring and a new split 7-inch with Fly Everywhere (Stepleader's side of the single is an effortlessly catchy piece of poppish punk called "Seeing Is Bereaving"), Stepleader is poised to (cough) step up to the next level.