Live: "We pushed big guitars to a place that wasn’t safe ground for rock'n'roll"
A small-town teenage band from Pennsylvania with a foundation of The Cure, R.E.M. and spiritual philosophy. It was a moment when Live’s heartfelt anthems could become a beacon
Ed Kowalczyk was stuck in traffic when the scale of his success hit him. It was July 1995, and Live’s singer was trying to get to a gig at the Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey Park, South Pennsylvania, only to be thwarted by 30,000 other people trying to get to the gig. The snag was that it was Kowalczyk’s own band who were due on stage that day, and this homecoming show was supposed to be their crowning glory.
“There was this moment where we were sitting on top of this hill, and I could see about two or three miles ahead of me across the valley, and we were literally stuck behind all the fans trying to get to the show,” he says. “That’s when it sunk in. I thought: ‘This is crazy. Look at all these people. I can’t get to my own concert.’” He laughs. “I was in the traffic thinking, ‘Was someone supposed to send an escort or something?’”
Kowalczyk and Live eventually made the stage, albeit late. But they were used to long delays. Their second album, the electrifying Throwing Copper, had reached No.1 in April 1995, a year after its release.
Amid the seismic musical and cultural upheavals of the early 90s, Throwing Copper was a kind of beacon. It rode the alt.rock wave, but rejected the drug-fuelled nihilism and weaponised irony of grunge in favour of deeply rooted spirituality and relentless self-questioning that owed more to U2 and R.E.M. than it did to Nirvana or Soundgarden. In Kowalczyk they had a singer who wore his early-90s earnestness as a badge of honour.
“We took our own road,” he says now. “We were this band from a small town in Pennsylvania with big guitars that pushed into this universal, spiritual place that wasn’t necessarily safe ground for a rock’n’roll band. That took courage.”
Live’s own career wasn’t quite stuck in a traffic jam, but it took a long time to arrive at its destination. The journey started in the “cultural vacuum” (Kowalczyk’s words) of York, Pennsylvania back in the early 80s, when the singer, guitarist Chad Taylor, bassist Pat Dahlheimer and drummer Chad Gracey put together their first band, Action Front. Dahlheimer’s older brother was their musical compass, introducing them to the world of alternative rock years before it merged with the mainstream.