The summer of 1995 represented my 1st taste of adult freedom. High school in the rear view mirror and higher education still in the future, it truly felt like there were endless possibilities. My best friend and I ventured out to Hershey, PA to catch what was being billed as a homecoming concert for one of the biggest bands in the world at that time – Live. An unlikely success story, Live rode the perfect wave of talent, hard work, and timing in the early to mid 90’s. The band’s 1991 debut Mental Jewelry is still one of my favorite records of all time – bass heavy indie rock drenched in mystic lyricism that sought answers to the meaning of life. Throwing Copper arrived 3 years later and took about a year to become a #1 hit, eventually selling over 10 million copies. The music had a more aggressive slant, perfectly timed to revel in the post Grunge rock revolution. The concert I saw in mid 1995 seemed to be the pinnacle of the band’s success – yet, they still managed to throw a Guided By Voices cover into their set list – a nod to their indie roots. 1997’s Secret Samadhi and 1999’s The Distance to Here continued the classic Live sound before the band essentially became a vehicle for the aspirations of lead singer Ed Kowalczyk.
Live seemingly ground to a halt in the late 00’s – a dispute erupted between Ed Kowalczyk and the other 3 members of Live – Chad Gracey, Chad Taylor, and Patrick Dahlheimer. Lawsuits were filed against Kowalczyk, settlements were reached – it seemed as if the Live story had ground to a halt. Kowalczyk started a successful solo career that continues to this day. The other members of Live put out a record in 2010 with 2 members of Candlebox as The Gracious Few. In 2011 the band started laying hints that Live were regrouping with a new singer. Chris Shinn, formerly of Unified Theory, was announced as the new singer of Live in early 2012. Personally, I wasn’t sure what to think. Say what you will about Ed Kowalczyk, but one thing is hard to dispute – he would be hard to replace as a lead singer. A band that I found myself thinking of was Alice in Chains – a band who have had similar record sales and had to replace an iconic singer. It worked out OK for Alice in Chains, and I’m happy to say it has worked out just as well, if not better for Live.
The 1st Live record in 8 years finds the band reaching back to the sounds of records 2, 3, and 4 (nothing really sounds like Mental Jewelry, unfortunately). Strangely enough, Live have not received the accolades that their peers from the same era have received. I’m not sure if it is due to the radio saturation of the mid 90’s, or if the latter-day output dampened the view of the early records, but it is a damn shame. Those early records are compelling works of art that happened to sell really well. At any rate, the band was wise to return to those sounds somewhat. The Turn brings Patrick Dahlheimer’s bass higher into the mix, lending a few of the songs a post punk feel. Shinn’s vocals fit with the music perfectly – controlled rage, working with a slight groove. It is an album that flows really well – in fact, this might be the most consistent Live record since Throwing Copper.
I never really saw it coming (highlights)
Honestly – there isn’t a bad song on the record. You might find it strange that Ed isn’t singing on a Live record the 1st time you give it a spin, but you’ll get over that soon enough. Siren’s Call kicks off the record on a high note – a grunge inspired jam that has the band totally locked into a groove. It serves as a nice reintroduction to the new Live. Chad Taylor’s guitar tones really sound inspired by the early 90’s Seattle sound here. Natural Born Killers features dark lyrics set to a pop oriented tune. The song progresses from soulful vocals to an all out guitar assault. Chad Gracey’s drumming shifts as well, from tribal to loose all within a 4 1/2 minute span. The Way Around Is Through is the album’s lead off single and a classic Live tune. Bass carrying the tune with melodic guitar flourishes throughout, this is a song that deserves radio play. The lyrics seem to reference the band’s dark times and subsequent regrouping. We Open the Door has an amazing bass riff, easily one of the top 5 in Live’s discography. It reminds me of Peter Hook’s work with Joy Division and New Order. Chris Shinn’s vocals really shine on this song. He Could Teach the Devil Tricks initially reminded me too much of White, Discussion. I quickly got over that, as the song shifts gears after the similar sounding introduction. I’ll tell you again – Chris Shinn is such a great fit for the band. Listening to him scream the lyrics “I never really saw it coming” hits hard. A perfect song.
Overall, this is a great record from Live. Hopefully this signals a new era for the band, the 1st record in a line of great records featuring Chris Shinn on vocals. If you didn’t like Live the 1st time around, you won’t like this one. If you DID like Live in the 90’s, but didn’t keep up with them in the 00’s – give this album a shot. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. The record is out now, and available on CD and digitally.
Verdict: A Welcome Return
For Fans of: R.E.M., Joy Division, Nirvana, Veruca Salt, Blind Melon, Alice in Chains
- Siren’s Call
- Don’t Run to Wait
- Natural Born Killers
- 6310 Rodgerton Dr.
- By Design
- The Way Around Is Through
- Need Tonight
- The Strength to Hold On
- We Open the Door
- He Could Teach the Devil Tricks
- Till You Came Around