June 30, 2019 – O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire
If there were any doubts about how a Live concert would be after an acrimonius hiatus and a ten year absence from the UK. The 2000 capacity show sold out quickly, even without the history of chart success they had in the U.S.
The venue (designed as a circus and music hall theatre in 1903) was packed on an unusually hot evening. Anticipation was rife as friends and strangers shared memories and hopes for the long-awaited return of the classic Live line-up.
The lights dropped as usual, but the lighting tech had more in store. The stage was kept darkened with just enough blue light to see the players perform in silhouette for Dam At Otter Creek, the dramatic opener of the 8 million-selling 1994 album Throwing Cooper. There were flashes of light corresponding with bursts in the song, foreshadowing the energy the band would give all night.
With his earnest delivery and thoughtful lyrics covering elemental topics like love, death, and spirituality, singer Ed Kowalczyk gained a reputation for intensity in the band’s chart 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. Admittedly, Kowalczyk forgot a few lyrics during the latter song, despite having the words 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. No problem though. He flashed another grin, gave another thumbs-up, and offered the mic 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 genuinely impressive.
The Paint It Black cover was heavy in dropped D guitar, bass and drums, with surprising shades of Black Sabbath along. 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 group went on hiatus in 2009 then three founding members returned three years later with a different singer for four years. Any bitterness from that time seemed well and truly resolved now.
Kowalczyk galloped around the stage embracing 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 onmipresent fire-and-brimstone street preachers 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 for someone to use their platform to celebrate joy in life, especially the emotion and community of live music.
When it came to live Live, it was fascinating to see the passion with which UK fans received the songs. The highest single position was 30 for Selling The Drama, and that 8 million-selling album evidently didn’t sell many of those copies here because it only reached number 37.
Nonetheless, 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 universally 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. It was 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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