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+ {The Gracious Few}

Led by shaven-headed singer/rhythm guitarist Ed Kowalczyk, the simply-named LIVE were partly the product of a post-grunge generation still coping with the loss of “teen spirit” Kurt Cobain. Although the Christian band had already made in-roads in to the market by way of 1991’s cross-pollinated “Mental Jewelry” album, it was only when imperious sophomore set, “Throwing Copper” (released only a fortnight after the suicide of the NIRVANA icon), that the cathartic LIVE kicked into gear.
The band’s roots could be traced back to 1988, when lead guitarist Chad Taylor, bassist Patrick Dahlheimer and drummer Chad Gracey roped in Ed to form York, Pennsylvania-based PUBLIC AFFECTION. Under this billing, the quartet issued a limited-edition, cassette-only set, “The Death Of A Dictionary” (1989). It led to interest from Giant Records, though nothing serious enough to involve a bona fide deal. However, gigs around the New York/CBGB’s area had resonated with one label, Radioactive/MCA, who inked a deal and promptly booked former CBGB’s fave JERRY HARRISON to produce them. Coming up with the moniker, LIVE, that both displayed a complete lack of imagination and confused prospective fans, the band nevertheless released a competent neo-grunge debut, MENTAL JEWELRY {*7}. Projecting Ed’s Eastern philosophical ideologies (a la Jiddu Krishnamurti) to the forefront, the Top 100 record found a large enough audience in its rather derivative hybrid of PEARL JAM, R.E.M. and U2. Though panned in some quarters for its preachy panacea of brotherhood and world peace, their baptism of fire and brimstone was set in stone on tracks `Pain Lies On The Riverside’ (“Long Train Runnin’”-meets-BEE GEES), `Operation Spirit (The Tyranny Of Tradition)’ and `The Beauty Of Gray’.
Around three years in the making, 1994’s THROWING COPPER {*8} eventually scaled the charts, largely due to a clutch of harder-edged singles such as `Selling The Drama’, MTV favourite `I Alone’ (very PEARL JAM), `Lightning Crashes’ and the forlorn `All Over You’. The album was belatedly released in Britain; paving the way for these semi-classics to bite, and setting the scene for a show-stealing (LIVE!) slot at the 1995 Glastonbury Festival.
Timed to perfection once again as another three years passed down the line, their second consecutive chart-topper, SECRET SAMADHI (1997) {*5}, repeated the winning formula, although with Jay Healey at the decks, the more discerning fan considered the album over-polished and over-ambitious. LIVE’s problem lay in the fact they sounded as if R.E.M. had popped in BUSH pills, though a delusional Ed had stated the record – featuring minor UK hits `Lakhini’s Juice’ and `Freaks’ – was “their best” up to this point.
In October ‘99, LIVE were indeed back to their near best when their fourth set, THE DISTANCE TO HERE {*7}, returned them to grace and favour for most of the critics and fans. Underlining the need for a hit of any kind; the classic `The Dolphin’s Cry’ in this case, a reinstated JERRY HARRISON explored the band’s inner intensity and psyche on other best bits: `The Distance’, `Sparkle’ and `Meltdown’.
Despite LIVE’s previous Top 5 engagement, 2001’s V {*6} displayed as much of a talent for naming albums as they wielded when trying to hit upon a group name. The album itself was another progression in their high-minded (a la KINGS X) alt-pop/rock, thus it was rewarded with their lowest chart placing for some time (#22). Mixing up a cocktail of BEATLES-vs.-R.E.M. riffs, a little EARTH, WIND & FIRE funk, and that Eastern intrigue that had always been LIVE’s trademark, it was too easy to dismiss the strengths of `Simple Creed’, `Deep Enough’ and flop single, `Overcome’.
The rather plaintively-titled BIRDS OF PRAY (2003) {*6} dealt with loftier themes in the wake of 9/11; often buckling under the weightiness of the lyrical topics and the sheer po-faced plod of the music. With only `Heaven’ breaking a sweat between the sheets of the US charts, the album – featuring `Life Marches On’ and the poignant `What Are We Fighting For?’ – only just scraped into the Top 30.
A switch to Epic/Columbia Records for 2006’s SONGS FROM BLACK MOUNTAIN {*6} did little to switch LIVE’s fortunes, and when the set failed to reached the Top 50, the band duly concentrated on concerts, before a suspected hiatus came into fruition. The band’s trouble was they neither fitted into alt-rock nor alt-AOR pigeonholes, and with post-grunge posted missing, songs such as `The River’, `Mystery’, `Get Ready’ et al, each flowed down the proverbial plug-hole via the searching sands of time.
On the back of a mistimed concert set, LIVE AT THE PARADISO: AMSTERDAM (2008) {*5}, and Ed Kowalczyk’s “Alive” album of 2009 that bombed unceremoniously, times were indeed tough for a band in transition. The remaining members, Taylor, Dahlheimer and Gracey were also free to explore their own heavier super-group pursuits with Messrs Kevin Martin (vocals) and Sean Hennesy (guitar), who’d plied their trade in post-grunge act CANDLEBOX.
The quintet’s eponymous THE GRACIOUS FEW (2010) {*6} – produced by the aforementioned HARRISON – had its hard-rock LED ZEPPELIN-esque moments in `Honest Man’, `Appetite’ and `Tredicim’, but it was a matter of the “song remained the same”.
Absence certainly did not make the heart grow fonder, as evidenced when the not-so-gracious three abandoned a self-titled “Live” comeback set, as well as giving Kowalczyk the heave-ho.
The spring of 2012 saw Chris Shinn (formerly of BLIND MELON off-shoot UNIFIED THEORY) take up the mic, and he was showcased for the next few years running up to LIVE’s “comeback” set, THE TURN (2014) {*5}. However its lowly hp#133 position belied a troublesome time for the band as they went through the motions under stalwart producer HARRISON. There was nothing to suggest that this was a long-term agreement, and probably to save face and a few dollars more in the legal ring, LIVE once again called upon original Kowalczyk. Although the reunion was initially tight-lipped, the latter half of 2018 unveiled fresh tracks in `Love Lounge’ and a 5-track EP, `Local 717’. The following summer, an “ALTimate” tour saw them pitted against the friendly fire of BUSH and OUR LADY PEACE.
© MC Strong/MCS 1996-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Aug2019

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