It was pretty cool to see Arcade Fire’s new album go to the top of the album charts. But let’s face it: The Suburbs went to number one with sales of fewer than 150,000. Ten years ago, that number probably wouldn’t have put the album in the top ten. Arcade Fire’s success may be a sign of indie rock’s triumph, but it’s also a sign of the music business’s decline.
Earlier this year Ted Leo caused a stir when he told a Louisville paper that with people not paying for music anymore, he wasn’t sure how long he will be able to afford to keep touring. He wasn’t making any big announcement, he was just talking about the economics of being in an indie-rock band that’s not as successful as Arcade Fire. Nonetheless, the music press was soon abuzz, and Leo had to go on his website to tell his fans, no, he was not retiring at age 39. Still, the whole kerfuffle was upsetting. I mean, Ted Leo & the Pharmacists are among the best live acts in the business. Leo himself is widely seen as the smartest and nicest guy in indie rock. If he can’t make a living doing this, who can?
Since then, Leo & the Pharmacists have released The Brutalist Bricks. It’s a great record, up-to-date but rooted in classic mod-rock guitars and old-school lefty politics. In “Ativan Eyes,” Leo sings, “The means of production are now in the hands of the workers.” Somewhere, Joe Strummer and Woody Guthrie are smiling. Go to the show — and when you’re there, keep the means of production in Leo’s hands: Buy the CD.
TED LEO & THE PHARMACISTS: The Casbah, Friday, September 3, 8:30 p.m. 619-232-4355. $15.