June 30, 2019
O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire
“It feels so good to be back on stage with my brothers from junior fucking high school!”
If there were any doubts about how Live would be received after a hiatus, acrimony, and a long absence from the UK, there was no need to worry. The show at the 2000 capacity Shepherd’s Bush Empire sold out quickly, even without a history of the radio success they had in the U.S.
The venue, designed as a circus and music hall theatre in 1903, was packed to the rafters on an unusually hot summer evening. Anticipation was rife as friends and strangers shared stories of previous shows and their hopes for the long-awaited return of the classic Live line-up.
The lights dropped as usual, but the lighting tech and band had more in store. During Dam At Otter Creek, the dramatic opener of the 8 million selling 1994 album Throwing Cooper , the stage was kept darkened with just enough blue light to see the players perform in silhouette. There were flashes of bright light corresponding with powerful bursts in the song, foreshadowing the energy that the band would give throughout the night.
With his earnest delivery and thoughtful lyrics covering elemental topics like love, death, spirituality and everything in between, singer Ed Kowalczyk gained a reputation for intense seriousness in the band’s radio and music television heyday. However, here he grinned as much as emoted; appreciating and encouraging the fans’ fervour for exuberant rock numbers like All Over You and Shit Towne.
The set included two covers; REM’s Losing My Religion and The Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black. Kowalczyk forgot a few lyrics during the latter song despite having the words pasted up next to the mic stand.
Let’s face it, that was never going to work given his boundless energy in prowling the stage and stepping out to interact with the crowd. No problem though. He simply flashed another grin, gave another thumbs up, and offered the mic out for the crowd to willingly fill in the blanks. The fans were well up for that role. Later, the way they collectively held the note on the chorus of Turn My Head was really rather impressive.
The Paint It Black cover was heavy in dropped D guitar, heavy bass and drums, with surprising shades of Black Sabbath along with influences of the original song. Perhaps not all that surprising given that Live had two live drummers for the show.
Although not referred to explicitly, there were oblique references to the band’s time apart; the entire group went on hiatus in 2009 and the three founding members returned three years later with a different singer for a four years. Any bitterness from that time seemed well and truly resolved now.
Kowalczyk galloped around the stage embracing and interacting with his stoically cool bandmates, openly appreciating their musicianship, and sharing mutual expressions of brotherhood.
For a handful of songs, including the heartfelt ballad to his daughter, Heaven – a comeback U.S. radio hit in 2003 – Kowalczyk played alone with just an electro-acoustic guitar and the crowd singing as one for accompaniment.
He spoke of the message behind the song, alluding to the fire and brimstone street preachers that are a regular feature outside Shepherd’s Bush station: “They can’t see the heaven that’s right there on the sidewalk…if heaven ain’t like this, count me out.” In a time of uncertainty and instability, it was refreshing to hear someone use their platform to celebrate the joy in life, especially in the emotion, energy and community of live music.
When it came to live Live music, it was fascinating to see the passion with which the fans received the songs even though they weren’t big hits over here. The highest single position was 30 for Selling The Drama, and that 8 million selling album Throwing Cooper didn’t sell many of those copies here, as it only reached number 37. An outsider would never have known that the barnstorming U.S. modern rock behemoth I Alone hadn’t made an airplay impact, or that Lightning Crashes wasn’t generally considered a modern classic here. Even the security guard sang along!
Overall, the band impressed with a greatest hits set that was heavier and rockier than a casual listener might expect, fuelled by experience, energy and reinvigorated friendships dating back to school days some 35 years ago. Hopefully it won’t be 10 years before they’re back in the UK again!
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