Live Reviews Music

Live sell the drama at Shepherd’s Bush Empire

Throwing Copper isn’t just Live’s second album. It’s the one that put them on the map, by topping the Billboard 200 charts, featuring five singles (including two US #1s), and selling over eight million copies. Now that it’s 25 years old, the band are celebrating with a special anniversary edition and at least two special intimate shows back home.

So when they begin their first London show in 10 years with the LP’s first song, the slow-climbing, deep-diving The Dam At Otter Creek, there’s a brief sense that they might perform the whole thing from start to finish.

They don’t. But they do play most of it in a set that digs deep into the five-year run of hits from 1994 onwards. The impassioned Heaven, given the unplugged solo treatment by frontman Ed Kowalczyk, is the only inclusion from this century – and it came out in 2003.

Yet, despite the passage of time, these songs remain as forceful as the way they’re performed tonight. Lead guitarist Chad Taylor and bass player Patrick Dahlheimer may look the epitome of rockstar cool in their matching Stetson-sunglasses-beard combos.

And, in terms of physical exertion, they’re no match for the hard-hitting Chad Gracey. But, even in their laid-back approach, Taylor and Dahlheimer sound just as intense as the drummer who’s all blurred arms and head-down momentum.

With some assistance from rhythm guitarist Zak Loy and percussionist Clint Simmons, they tear through signature loud-quiet, dark-light rockers like All Over You, Iris, I Alone, and Selling The Drama as if they’re back in high school (when they were still called First Aid and Public Affection).

A riotous Shit Towne (melodic, plaintive verses; thrashing choruses), epitomises Kowalczyk’s description of Throwing Copper as “big songs, big feelings, big dynamics”, while the visceral White, Discussion (meditative start, apocalyptic finish) is a thundering assault on the senses.

Leading from the front (and, frankly, all over) is Kowalczyk. As energetic as Gracey, but not confined to a drum stool, he’s every bit as dynamic as those songs he’s more than singing. Even as he’s pointing both index fingers to the sky like a celebrity DJ, leaning the microphone into the rabid crowd, raising a fist, enclosing his hands around an invisible globe, playing rhythm guitar, or just running around the stage, he fully inhabits hit after hit.

His soaring roar of “Let me ride” is as essential to the murky Lakini’s Juice as Taylor’s gritty guitar riff. The alternating vocal restraint and excess of The Dolphin’s Cry is only surpassed by the shades within the forever beautiful Run To The Water (verses almost spoken, choruses almost stratospheric).

The perpetually pretty Turn My Head, performed alone, is custom made for the “edgy croon” setting in Kowalczyk’s voice before Taylor steps in with the haunting solo.

As he drapes his arm over the guitarist, there’s no sign of the rift that split the singer from the rest of the band for seven years. In fact, throughout the evening, Kowalczyk speaks of their shared bond, their families, their hometown (York, Pennsylvania), and just how much fun they’re having being back in London.

Of course, there’s also time for the standard stage banter, with the frontman frequently encouraging the crowd to sing or clap along and at regular intervals asking: “Are you having fun now?”

Judging from the screams around Shepherd’s Bush Empire (and the particularly enthusiastic dancing from two punters on the balcony), the answer’s always the same: a resounding yes.

The band are clearly having a blast too, to the extent that they even perform two covers. R.E.M.’s Losing My Religion, billed as a tribute to their early influences, comes early in the set; an exciting take on The Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black couldn’t possibly sound more like musicians who still enjoy playing together.

Both are well received, but (predictably) the biggest cheers are reserved for the Live original that (predictably) closes the high-impact set: Lightning Crashes. Possibly still the only number one hit to mention a placenta, it definitely still has the majesty and enduring legacy to prompt 2000 voices to join in unprompted, almost drowning out Kowalczyk and the band, until those “big dynamics” kick in one last time.

Review of Live at Shepherds Bush Empire on 30th June 2019 by Nils van der Linden. Photography by Phil Honley.

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