Ever since I first laid eyes on Ted Leo back in 1999, I've been in love with the guy. Watching him take Graceland's stage in a neon pink T-shirt tucked into white jeans, I witnessed the singer deliver each song with every ounce of energy (and every dance move) he could muster. Leo played one of the most upbeat, infectious shows I'd seen in a long time. Afterward, I bought the most recent record at the time, The Tyranny of Distance, and did a little research. What I learned made him even cooler.

The man first made his mark in music back in the late '80s/early '90s with various New York hardcore bands (Citizens Arrest, Animal Crackers), and the D.C. punk band Chisel. But then, in the late '90s, he went solo, turning to melodies rather than screaming, and adding elements of folk and pop into his strong rock base.

Since Tyranny, Leo has released two more records. There's the more rock-heavy Hearts of Oak, and his latest, Tell Balgeary, Balgury Is Dead. While he has always had this charming back-to-the-basics vibe to his songs, Tell Balgeary is especially stripped down, with many of the tracks featuring only his electric guitar and his sparkling, strong voice.

I'm convinced the man can do no wrong--from hardcore, to punk, to melodic, smile-inducing pop. My god, he can even pull off a pink T-shirt with white jeans! Just being in the same room with him makes you cooler. The Fiery Furnaces and local band the Fitness open the January 23 show, so don't pass this one up. It's only $8 and starts at 9:30 p.m.

Speaking of good shows at Graceland, the evening before Ted Leo's appearance (Thursday, January 22) you have the perfect chance to get your sassy dance on when These Arms Are Snakes headline a show with Harkonen, Kane Hodder, and Belt of Vapor.

I'm not a huge fan of Harkonen, to tell you the truth, (Megan doesn't like metal), but they're still fun to watch live. And Kane Hodder... well, I don't even need to say it, do I? If you read this column with any sort of regularity, it's already obvious that I'm a fan. The new material they've been working into recent sets just confirms that, because them kids is gettin' good. The show starts at 8:00 p.m., and it's $7.

Also, I just got word that construction is wrapping up on the new Paradox venue in Ballard! The grand opening is planned for April 2nd, so keep that date clear.

Lastly, it's almost time for The Stranger's annual Valentine's Day issue, where we print thousands of your clever proclamations of love. So if you've got something to say to your little cookie monster (or whatever), send your 30-word message to love@thestranger.com and we'll print it in our February 12 issue.

I hope Ted Leo will be my valentine. MEGAN SELING

megan@thestranger.com

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