My background with the band Live coincides with my discovery of “alternative” music in the early 90’s, my desire to seek out bands that did things their own way, and a mentor who helped introduce me to many bands that I still love to this day. The band cut a record in the late 80’s while still in high school under the Public Affection moniker, fell in with Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads and released their masterful debut as Live in 1991, Mental Jewelry (still my favorite). From there the band became more and more popular, selling tens of millions of records along the way. Throwing Copper, Secret Samadhi, and The Distance to Here all were records that helped solidify Live as a household name. From there, the band experimented with their sound (V), released a somewhat underappreciated album (Birds of Pray), and released an album with some strong songs but overall didn’t showcase the band’s strengths (Songs From Black Mountain). The band went on hiatus, followed by solo albums, one-off projects, and a Live album cut with Chris Shinn of Unified Theory fame. A reunion of the original four members seemed to be an impossible scenario.
I’m going to state up front – I really liked The Turn cut with Chris Shinn on vocals. But it didn’t feel like a Live album. I caught Ed Kowalczyk solo in 2014 and was absolutely blown away. So, I had a “double-think” mentality about all the issues that led to the band’s break up. On one hand, I respected the band’s desire to move on and was willing to go on that journey with them. On the other, I felt (feel) that Ed is an iconic vocalist and wanted to see them reunite. In late 2016, my dreams came true – the original band patched up their differences and played their first shows together in over a decade. I loved every second. Mid 2018 saw the release of their first new song in 12 years, Love Lounge. My friend who had introduced me to Live in the 90’s wasn’t impressed, but I liked it. I’ve grown to love it. Unfortunately, my friend committed suicide a week after the song’s release and isn’t here to listen to Local 717, the band’s comeback EP. I wish he was though, it is an impressive return to form for the band.
Love Lounge is a heavy, heavy, heavy way for the band to return. There is a metal vibe here, which I wasn’t expecting. The song builds and builds and features a killer Metallica type breakdown with lyrics that I just love “Shoot that / Fear!”. Be a Giver, Man continues the hard rock vibes. I love the mix on this song, it is a wall of noise with the band firing on all cylinders. I also love the positive vibes in the lyrics – it is an inspired vocal performance by Ed Kowalczyk but not overly earnest. Just right. “Be a giver in your soul / Be a light where no one goes / All alone and free of fear / Be a giver, be a giver”. Waterfall again showcases the band’s aggressive side, with a few flourishes that I loved, such as the synths in the mix. Ed again is firing on cylinders, but the time he shouts “Where the hell do we go from here?”, you’ll be fully in that zone with him. Brother has a mystical introduction that feels like a nod to their early / mid 90’s records. Sinister vocals, anthemic, aggressive – THIS is what people loved / love about Live. Killer guitar solo. I noticed over the first 4 songs that the band hadn’t showcased Ed singing his heart out in a ballad – I understood the reasons why, but it was a curious choice. Their cover of the Velvet Underground’s Venus in Furs fills that void really well. It jumped out at me on the track listing and it does not disappoint – slow, mysterious, orchestrated musical accompaniment – what a way to close the EP.
I managed to catch Live in concert back in June and they did not disappoint. The new songs fit in well with their classics. Ed, Chad, Chad, and Patrick are joined by Zak on guitar and Robin on drums in their touring incarnation. I was really glad to see that slot offered to Zak Loy – he was incredible as Ed’s guitarist on his solo tour. A welcome return from one of the 90’s most iconic bands.
Verdict: A Welcome Return
For Fans of: R.E.M., Nirvana, Hole, Velvet Underground, Stone Temple Pilots