[19 January 2009]
Live are nothing if not persistent. Born during the grunge boom of the early ‘90s, the band first achieved success with their 1994 album Throwing Copper, mostly on the strength of the mega-hit “Lightning Crashes”. (If you’re younger than fifteen, you will probably only recognize the song from Buzz Ballads commercials.) In 1997, Live released their follow-up album Secret Samadhi, which sold millions of copies before people got embarrassed about owning an album with a song called “Lakini’s Juice” on it. Live might (should?) have died there, but in 1999 they released The Distance To Here, which sold even more copies than its predecessors had. If all that wasn’t enough, they also scored a minor hit with “Heaven” in 2003—long after most people had forgotten they ever existed.
Now, Live gives us a new live album called, yes, Live At The Paradiso—an album, they say, that has been fifteen years in the making. But that begs the question: Who actually cares about Live anymore?
Apparently, the answer is: Europeans. While Live’s popularity statewide has waned, they have never gone out of vogue across the pond, and the crowd at the Paradiso show certainly is enthusiastic. Indeed, the album sleeve chronicles just how crazy the show was, with lead singer Ed Kowalczyk’s state of dress as a barometer. In the first picture, he’s sporting a snazzy black button-down. By the next, the front has come open, exposing a chest as hairless as his shiny head. In the final picture, the shirt has disappeared, leaving Kowalczyk sweaty and bare-chested and, presumably, in total awe of his own ability to rock the fuck out.
The shirt thing is actually indicative of the larger problem with Live At The Paradiso, and indeed with Live itself: They’re still acting like it’s 1995. No evolution in their sound has occured whatsoever. They have the same vaguely spiritual lyrics, the same falsetto-heavy vocals, the same crunchy-but-bland guitar riffs. And in the same way a man approaching forty should think twice about shucking his shirt in public, a band should think twice about releasing an album that sounds this dated.
Of course, Live isn’t really trying appeal to a new fan base. They’re trying to please the fans they have left. It’s tough to imagine, though, this album will do that. Kowalczyk’s voice betrays his age: His yelps and screams, which always seemed to come naturally, now sound forced and a little painful. The songs are all identical in structure to their studio counterparts, so unless you like every song you hear to have at least one chorus sung by drunk Dutchmen, there’s not much to recommend here.
It’s tough to begrudge Live this album. After all, who wouldn’t want, fifteen years in, to hold on to the vestiges of past fame? But it looks now like Live has perhaps been a bit too persistent—they’ve even outlasted their fans.