October 15th, 2006. That was the last time I saw the band called Live. That’s makes a total of 3323 days between that date and this show. It was also 18 years and 6 months, or, 6770 days since the first time I saw them as an 11 year old on the Secret Samadhi tour in 1997. I first became a fan of the band when I was about 6 years old when my older cousin left one of his CD’s at our place, that CD ended up being Mental Jewelry, Live’s debut album. I listened to it over and over and was already hooked before the release of Throwing Copper in 1994. So, it is probably fair to say that my love affair with this band is deep rooted and long lasting, and thus, my expectations were extremely high. The love affair has been rocky, like any relationship. In the mid-2000’s, original lead singer Ed Kowalczyk took over full creative control of the band. They no longer wrote ensemble music as a quartet, which was what brought them to the top in the first place. Instead, Ed now wrote everything, and it’s fair to say not only did the quality of music decline, but so did their popularity. Eventually, it became a messy situation which became a legal issue and it resulted in Ed leaving the band.
In some ways I thought that was for the best. Ed was one of the most amazing artists back in the 90s. But it became harder and harder to see what he was doing within the band. Now at least he makes his own solo music, while I don’t personally dig it, at least he is free to do as he pleases. So all I will say to that, is best of luck to him. Live, however, looked dead and buried until it was announced they were returning with a new lead singer, former Unified Theory front man, Chris Shinn. Prior to the announcement of his joining the band, I had never heard of Shinn before. I did some investigating and was really pleased with what I heard of his former band, plus solo projects Everything is Energy, and a self-titled album. But while that all sounded good, taking the reigns of one of the bands I have followed closely for almost my entire life was another story. I wasn’t skeptical, but I was cautious. Initial concert recordings in 2012 sounded different, as expected, but good. As time went by and Shinn became more ingrained within the band and gained confidence in his role the output was sounding better and better. This was completely uncharted territory for a band who were veterans and so set in their way. Suddenly they must have felt like they were starting from scratch again in a lot of ways and so you could see from following their progress that it was a work in progress. But the main point was, that it was working.
This culminated in the release of their first album with Shinn as lead singer in 2014, titled The Turn. I wrote a review about it here: https://tracesofwaste.wordpress.com/2014/10/26/live-the-turn-album-review/ – which incidentally was the last time I wrote in this blog. Damn uni getting intense and in the way. I must change that over the summer! I won’t say too much more about The Turn as I have already said it there. But for the most part, it blew me away. But now, how would all of this sound in person? When I am standing in front of the band for the first time in 9 years, would it have the same energy it seemed to have from YouTube videos? My expectations were set pretty high.
I was excited that the show was being held at The Forum, which in my opinion is the best venue in town. I arrived at the show with my friend about an hour before the doors were due to open. I picked up my tickets and a couple of backstage passes which were generously organised by a friend of mine connected with the band. I joined the line and saw familiar faces I haven’t seen in almost a decade. Some I remembered faces, but not names, others I’d kept in contact with, it was a bit of a spin out. The line was very short. Arriving an hour beforehand and we were only about 10th in line. There was a real nervous energy among those who had gathered.
Front row was secured as soon as we entered the venue. Amazingly, even though this was my 14th Live show, I’d never been front row before. The venue took a long time to fill up and when opening band, Chocolate Starfish began playing, it was barely a quarter full. Chocolate Starfish were OK. They had a lot of energy, the lead singer was pretty engaging with the crowd and the crowd responded well. It was quite generic Australian pub-rock type stuff, but it was good enough. I’ve seen much worse bands open for Live!
By the time Chocolate Starfish finished their set I turned around and the Forum had filled up nicely. Not a sell out, but full enough and enough people to make it challenging to make my way through the crowd for one last trip to the bar.
At bang on 9pm the lights dimmed and the familiar sounds which greet you when you press play on the first track of Throwing Copper filled the theatre. Live were opening with the track The Dam at Otter Creek, a song that was recorded in an old house during an intense thunderstorm. It is brooding and moody, ominous even. It builds slowly before exploding into frantic energy. What was experienced at The Forum was no different. Right from the beginning, the band sounded loud, raw and full of energy. It was a moment when goosebumps formed on arms even though the theatre was hot. The lights remained dim to match the mood of the song in its slower stages but as soon as the song exploded it was a case of “let there be light”. The band sounded tight. Real tight. Chad Gracey was pounding the living shit out of the skins, Pat Dahlheimer was grooving with his bass already, Chad Taylor was stomping and Chris Shinn was letting us know that he is the lead singer of Live. Shinn was on fire early on, his voice was solid, he looked confident, he controlled his stage presence like the professional he is. He played with vocal effects using natural techniques such as swaying the mic back and forth in front of his mouth and creating distance between him and the mic as his vocals faded into the music, as if he were being swallowed by Otter Creek itself. Shinn fell to his knees to finish the opening song, crawling on the floor, his face strained as he threw everything he had into the performance. There was no phoning it in, this was all passion. This was a guy who was determined to show a group of hardcore Australian fans, who were starved Live experiences, that he belonged.
(Apologies for the quality of the sound in these recordings. Unfortunately that is the trade off when you get front row is that you don’t quite capture the sound as well. Some videos are better than others though. Recommended watching in HD by pressing the little spoke wheel and changing to 720p or 1080p)
The band continued on by rolling out a few Throwing Copper fan favourites in Selling the Drama and All Over You, the latter of which produced the first crowd sing-a-long for the night. A great sign that the crowd were readily accepting this new incarnation of the band. The band then show cased some of their oldest material with back-to-back songs from their debut album – Operation Spirit and Pain Lies on the Riverside. As was the case with many of these old tracks, new life was breathed into what became almost tired, stale songs by the end of 2006. Now they had new energy, not just because of Shinn, but the break by the rest of the band and now playing gigs more sparingly I think allows them to attack these songs with more gusto. Pain Lies was especially a bright point with that trademark funky bass line from Dahlheimer shining bright.
(Again, sound quality isn’t perfect, but listen to that bass! And again, best to watch in HD).
The pace was brought down a notch with a ballad from 1997’s Secret Samadhi – Turn My Head. As much as Shinn sounds fantastic on the rockers, he really excels in some of the slower numbers, this was no exception. We got some real rockers next with one of the contenders for my favourite Live song, Iris and crowd favourite The Dolphin’s Cry. Iris was thundering, Gracey played drums like he had a grudge against them. Dolphin’s Cry is a strange one, it is such a quintessentially Kowalczyk song, yet vocally it is one of the best old tracks that Shinn has taken to. The song takes on a new life – it was always a harder edged pop song, now it is a straight up raw rock song.
What I was really looking forward came next though – a new song! Siren’s Call, the opening track to The Turn was played next and it was like an absolute kick in the face. This was like a wall of sound, it was heavy, brooding, big chunky guitars, a deep grooving riff, thundering drums. This was something brand new to experience live, it grabbed you by the collar and demanded your attention. The crowd reaction was very positive. Lots of people knew it already and sang along, and the ones who didn’t seem to know it were looking like they were hit by a truck. The Turn has only been released in Australia about 2 weeks ago even though it was available overseas and online a year ago, so this would have been very new to many people but it went over very well. By the time it finished I felt like a sweaty mess just listening to it. This was Live.
The heavy songs continued after with another new track – 6310 Rodgerton Drive, one of my favourites off the new album and a very personal track to Shinn – and it showed. The vocal energy he puts into this song is fantastic, this is his story. It doesn’t hurt that the chorus is catchy as hell and that got people singing along. Another heavy song and crowd favourite featured at this time too, the crowning jewel of Secret Samadhi, Lakini’s Juice. Again, this was loud and raw. Taylor was stomping a hole in the stage floor and Shinn took a wander into the crowd during this track which caused the crowd to go to another level and the foundations of the Forum shook.
Live closed off the main portion of the set with a couple of numbers from Throwing Copper – Shit Towne, and arguably their second most famous song, I Alone. I’m not sure why, but Shit Towne didn’t quite do it for me. I’d say that was probably the weakest track of the night. Still good, but just didn’t quite capture something. I Alone was back to its raw mid-90s best. In the 00’s it became a pure pop song with the breakdown consisting of vocal sections of other songs and keyboard synth parts. The song strayed so far from what it was intended to be. Not tonight. This was balls to the wall rock. During the breakdown Taylor walked over to Shinn and stopped him from singing and motioned to the crowd in a sort of “dude, trust me, don’t worry, they got this” way. True enough, the crowd sang the breakdown and chorus with gusto while Taylor and Shinn watched on. After this song the band said their thanks and goodbyes and left the stage. The lights stayed dim, they hadn’t played their biggest hit, it was no surprise what was coming next. The crowd was loud with lots of foot stomping, clapping and chants for more. I was sweaty and definitely needed the bathroom but I wasn’t leaving.
Taylor came back alone and picked up his guitar and began to strum the opening chords to Lightning Crashes and the crowd roared with appreciation. To some people Live are known as “the Lightning Crashes band” or even “the band that sings about the placenta”. Everyone in the room was singing this. This was the song that no matter what level of Live fan you were, you knew this one. This was also most likely the make or break moment for a lot of people with accepting “the new guy” and I would say that going by the crowd reaction here showed that Shinn was well and truly accepted. They performed the song on Sunrise on Channel 7 a few days earlier and nerves must have gotten to Shinn as he messed up the lyrics on live TV. It’s understandable, but he must have been gutted, but he didn’t let it effect him here. He didn’t skip a beat. After Lightning Crashes came a real treat, one of my personal favourites which I hadn’t heard in person in concert since 1997, Heropsychodreamer. This was a real blast from the past, a hidden gem that they rarely played after 1997 beyond a very brief period in 2001. Dahlheimer’s bass was once again front and centre here, driving the song forward and dictating the pace. Such a great straight up rocker.
The show came to an end with the band’s traditional closer – White, Discussion. The song about the end of the world which always divulges into an all out long frantic heavy jam session. Its distinctive slow groove and slow build has those familiar with Live ready to jump when the song explodes. No two versions of White, Discussion are ever quite the same and this one was pretty damn special. When all hell broke loose on stage Taylor was giving it his all trying to break through the stage floor. Shinn was wailing into the mic the iconic lines “look where all this talking got us, baby!” Gracey was a beast hammering away like a mad man and Dahlheimer was lost in his own world with the groove. There was no way you could watch this and think “its just not the same”. Different? Yes, but if you fell in love with Live for what they did in the 90s, this was the same spirit. Just as the song began to wind down, Gracey kicked it back into gear lifting the tempo again with the drums and they were off again for another few minutes rocking out. When it began to wind down a second time the band said their goodbyes and gave their thanks, all except Taylor. He took off his guitar and held it out over the crowd shouting something about wanting more. He planted his guitar head first into the stage floor and stomped his foot demanding the rest of the band come back out. The crowd were right behind him. He wouldn’t leave the stage. Eventually the other guys came back out and took up their instruments again. What followed was an impromptu band meeting where it seemed to be that they were discussing what they could do next and couldn’t quite agree on a closing song.
In the end what emerged out of the generic slow jamming was Dahlheimer playing the White, Discussion bass riff. This built and built and the band jammed out an extended finish to the song which once again ended with an explosion into an all out rock fest. When this finally died down for a third time, the extended song must have lasted close to 15 minutes all up. An epic end to such a great show. I was having withdrawals from the moment they left the stage.
It’s hard to say the show was without fault though. Personally, I would have preferred to see more new tracks. Only two from The Turn was a bit disappointing when that album has so many great tracks that should have had exposure. Especially when the two tracks they did came across so well and were received well. I can understand why they didn’t – this is their reintroduction to the Australian market. They wanted to be familiar even though they were a little different. I guess selfishly I also would have preferred more obscure songs along the lines of Heropsychodreamer, but again, in this setting, I understand why they didn’t. Hopefully next time those two things change a bit. Also, at the same time, it’s the first Live gig for me in 9 years so I really can’t complain much. That’s very minor. The performance itself was hard to knock. The band really brought it and I’d go as far as to say that it was probably the second best performance I have seen from them after that 1997 show.
As the lights came back up and the crowd began to disperse, I made my way to the bathroom but listened out for chatter among the crowd on the way. Very positive comments, no remarks about it “not being the same”. I’d say the crowd, at least the vast majority, wholly accepted Shinn. Some who I saw later posting on facebook weren’t even aware it was a different singer – I guess that’s a testament to the way he’s fit in. Those would most likely be much more casual fans. To me, I thought he was distinctly different but captured that same spirit from the 90s that was needed to be for the band to be themselves again after straying so far. What impressed me more than anything though was meeting Shinn after the show at a quick meet and greet. As humble as can be, introducing himself to everyone, very easy to talk to and greeted you with a huge smile. You could tell he was having a blast and wasn’t taking anything for granted. He had time for everyone who wanted to have a chat, get a photo or have something signed. I was kicking myself I didn’t get the Everything is Energy album in physical form shipped over for him to sign. Outside of The Turn, that’s my favourite he has been involved in – worth checking out! He really seemed like the kind of guy you could sit down and have a beer with easily. It was short but sweet, sharing a few laughs and jokes at my poor mate’s expense as he struggled to figure out how to operate an iPhone camera. Dahlheimer and Gracey also made appearances, they were seasoned veterans at this and let the people come to them. Was great to get the chance to thank them for finally coming back out and for not letting the band and music die.
All in all, I am suffering from withdrawals already. It was the best gig of 2015, which means it even knocks Morrissey off the perch for this year. I can’t wait until next time. Please excuse the photos below of the author who is a sweaty horrible mess in each one.