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Live - 'Awake: The Best of Live'

Photo courtesy Radioactive.

Live's Origins:

Live got its start in 1985, when four teenage friends in York, Pennsylvania – vocalist Ed Kowalczyk, bassist Patrick Dahlheimer, drummer Chad Gracey and guitarist Chad Taylor – began playing shows in their hometown area under the name Public Affection. Although the band name would change, the original lineup has remained intact ever since. Recording their self-released, cassette-only debut, The Death of a Dictionary, in 1989, the group gained more visibility and began touring more extensively. But they still needed to find a label.

Finding a Record Label:

At the dawn of the 1990s, the band attracted interest from Radioactive Records, which signed the group, now known as Live, to a contract. Mental Jewelry, the first album with the label, captured the band’s earnest hard-rock style, incorporating Eastern philosophy and unconventional rhythmic styles. As with many band’s debuts, Mental Jewelry revealed Live’s nascent talents but lacked a certain amount of confidence. Mental Jewelry didn’t have much impact on the mainstream rock audience, but “Operation Spirit (The Tyranny of Tradition)” cracked the modern rock charts, and the album eventually went on to platinum sales.

Superstar Status:

It wasn’t until their second album, 1994’s Throwing Copper, that Live exploded into the mainstream. Toning down the spiritual searching of Kowalczyk’s lyrics from Mental Jewelry, Live looked to the sweeping musical energy of groups like Pearl Jam and U2 for inspiration. The result was an album that dominated the charts and launched five singles that spanned the gamut of the brooding “Lightning Crashes” to “I Alone,” which transitioned from a soft verse into an explosive chorus, a popular sonic style of the era's grunge artists. Rock critics accused Live of derivativeness, but audiences warmly embraced the band.

Still Popular in Shifting Musical Times:

By the time of Live’s next record, 1997’s more adventurous Secret Samadhi, grunge had decreased in popularity, muscled aside by indie rock, electronica and hip-hop. In the face of those commercial realities, Secret Samadhi sold very well, moving approximately 2 million copies in the U.S. alone, although it didn’t come close to matching Throwing Copper’s impressive totals. As with Throwing Copper, the band balanced taut rockers like “Lakini's Juice” with quieter, romantic numbers such as “Turn My Head.”

Diminished Commercial Stature:

The band’s last popular release, 1999’s The Distance to Here, was an attempt to recapture the sound of Throwing Copper, with the band re-teaming with that album’s producer, former Talking Heads member Jerry Harrison. While The Distance to Here managed to go platinum in the U.S., Live’s commercial relevance had greatly diminished since their heyday of the mid ‘90s. “The Dolphin’s Cry” was a favorite of rock radio, but, like most of The Distance to Here, it largely recycled Live’s past musical achievements rather than suggesting a new path or reinvigorated passion.

An Uncertain Future for an Influential Band:

The 21st century has seen a further shrinking of Live’s fan base. 2001’s V was the band’s weakest seller by a wide margin. Two years later, Birds of Pray represented a slight rebound but was nowhere near the massive success of Throwing Copper. Indicating the band’s shriveled commercial viability in the U.S., Songs From Black Mountain was released in 2006 in several other countries before it arrived on record shelves in America.

While the band’s glory days are probably behind them, the members of Live have nevertheless influenced a new generation of hard rock acts, like Breaking Benjamin and Daughtry.

'Live at the Paradiso - Amsterdam':

On November 11, 2008, Live released Live at the Paradiso – Amsterdam, a concert CD and DVD that included live performances of some of the band’s biggest hits, such as “Selling the Drama” and “I Alone.”

A New Frontman:

In 2012, the band returned from a long hiatus, but without their frontman. With Kowalczyk no longer part of the picture, the group recruited Chris Shinn to be their new vocalist. The group is currently working on their first studio album since 2006’s Songs From Black Mountain.

Current Live Members:

Patrick Dahlheimer – bass
Chad Gracey - drums
Chris Shinn – vocals, guitar
Chad Taylor – guitar

Essential Album:

Awake: The Best of Live
With even bestselling Live albums like Throwing Copper riddled with filler, the strongest pick is this greatest-hits collection. It’s always annoying when a group tries to emphasize weaker commercial albums on their best-ofs by neglecting legitimate hits from their creative peak, but even with that complaint, Awake is a fine primer on Live’s strengths as a brooding, hard-rocking band.


The Death of a Dictionary (1989)
Mental Jewelry (1991)
Throwing Copper (1994)
Secret Samadhi (1997)
The Distance to Here (1999)
V (2001)
Birds of Pray (2003)
Awake: The Best of Live (greatest hits) (2004)
Songs From Black Mountain (2006)
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