Live: Artist of the Year
LIVE!” “HOOTIE!””LIVE!” “HOOTIE!”
THIS IS THE EXCHANGE ON THE streets, a cry that rises up as the members of Live make their escape from the 1995 Billboard Music Awards, at which they were just given the Rock Artist of the Year accolade. It’s a cold and brilliantly floodlighted Christmas-season-in-Manhattan evening, and throngs of bundled-up fans are gathered behind police barricades when the four band mates make their way from the catacombs of the New York Coliseum. A car is waiting 100 yards away, a road manager is ready to run interference, and all the awestruck crowd can do as their heroes come within spitting distance is scream: “Live!”
“Hootie!” a lone voice retorts. A voice belonging to, of all people, Live guitarist Chad Taylor. “Live!” the crowd continues, and Taylor repeats his non sequitur of a response: “Hootie!” This odd choice of mantra completely disarms the pack, which dissolves into laughter. Taylor and the rest of Live hit the limo without further distraction merely by invoking the name of the one band whose multiplatinum run in 1994 and 1995 was more staggering than their own.
But only just. While Hootie and the Blowfish continue to make their simultaneous run at record-breaking sales and ever-shrinking golf handicaps, Live have forged their own brand of wide-ranging stardom. Their second record, Throwing Copper, was released in the spring of 1994. More than 18 months later, thanks to endless touring, five radio and video smashes and a judiciously timed appearance on MTV Unplugged, the album has sold more than 5 million copies, and Live now have an audience that stretches from the most obsessive corners of cyberspace to the 15,000-seat venues they filled during the summer of 1995.
Overnight success? Hardly. Together as a band for almost a decade, this group of 24- and 25-year-olds from York, Pa. – singer Ed Kowalczyk, bassist Patrick Dahlheimer, drummer Chad Gracey and guitarist Taylor – seem built for an even longer haul. Although MTV has been generous in giving Live their biggest breaks – first back in 1991 by jumping on their debut video, “Operation Spirit (The Tyranny of Tradition),” and later with long-term support for Throwing Copper – Live have the kind of hungry-for-meaning fan base that goes beyond a casual I-like-that-video-with-the-skinhead-guy appeal.
While Live possess the same existential angst that fuels so much rock today, their approach is more about searching than raging or imploding. No negative creep or cartoon nihilist, lyricist Kowalczyk is unafraid of sentiment, favoring Big Subjects like love, religion and, on the band’s biggest hit, “Lightning Crashes,” the circle of life – as in birth, death and rebirth. Kowalczyk is not only willing to believe there’s beauty and meaning in this alienated age, he’s also bold – or foolish – enough to try to figure out what it is, pointing the way for an audience that welcomes the possibility of transcendence (“It’s the way we sing that makes ’em dream,” Kowalczyk posits on Throwing Copper‘ s “Selling the Drama”). Musically, Live’s mass appeal stems from the band’s straightforward spin on what can now be called, God help us, ’80s classic rock. Live are slightly funkier and a bit more gothic, but since Day One they’ve been openly influenced by U2 and R.E.M. From the former, Live take their heart-on-the-sleeve sincerity and big-rock sweep; they owe their unglamorous democratic approach and sense of ruminative melodies to the latter.
“We’re earnest people,” Taylor says, and that inspires Live’s fans to relate to the group on a highly personal level. It’s a feeling the band returns by keeping in long-distance collective contact with the Friends of Live. There’s a phone number fans can call for the latest information on band activities, and the four members also pen individual notes for Home Spun, their regularly published fan-club newsletter.
On the Internet, Live’s official Web site draws an estimated 12,000 hits a day. In addition to the usual videos, sound clips, lyric sheets and discographies, the band is unafraid to make available, the artifacts of its early years, such as local newspaper articles and photos of their early, bad New Wave haircuts. There’s also a management-sanctioned e-mail list, and an active bulletin board and private chat room on America Online, where hard-core fans vent about their personal problems and analyze every image of Kowalczyk’s writing – his take on abortion, what one song’s reference to Hitler means, where he stands on religion – as if they were sacred texts.
“I’ve willed, I’ve walked, I’ve read, I’ve talked, I know, I know, I’ve been here before,” Kowalczyk sings on “Selling the Drama.” “Hey, now we won’t be raped, hey, now we won’t be scarred like that.” Here’s AOL subscriber Altfanatic, with his or her deconstruction of these words: “The character begins to turn away from religion. He had always walked the pure path by telling others about his God; he had always been willing. But then something bad happened in his life, and perhaps he prayed for help but didn’t get it. He was scarred by his experiences and now believes that since religion didn’t help him, he must help himself. He is determined to keep himself from being hurt – raped, scarred – again.”
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