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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Live Mines the '80s, Playing Arena-Rock in Modest Venue

March 14, 1997|SARA SCRIBNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Crave a little new-time religion with your rock? How about some alternative murk with your pageantry? Or what do you think of some earnest soul-searching lurking in your metal crunch?

Live, a rock group from York, Pa., is happy to oblige.

At the band's Wiltern Theatre concert on Wednesday, a blinding light show and the group's huge, crushing chords made it clear that Live has embraced arena rock-dom with a passion. The crowd greeted each song with frat-party howls, held up their lighters and it felt like the '80s all over again.

Extending the retro vibe back another decade, candles and lava lamps lined the stage, and thoughts on enlightenment crept into the songs from the band's new album, "Secret Samadhi," named after a Hindu spiritual term. It was a reminder that singer Edward Kowalczyk is a spiritual seeker who has followed philosopher Krishnamurti. Too bad he didn't come close to reaching nirvana.

"In another place, in another time, I'd be driving trucks, my dear," Kowalczyk, looking like a swinging Hari Krishna with his shaved head and purple shirt, sang in the set's opener, "Rattlesnake." The line was a poignant nod to the band's blue-collar background and a reminder that Live is Everyband--a group that helped package mainstream rock as "alternative."

Riding on a formulaic rehash of whisper-to-a-crash guitar, jangling interludes a la R.E.M. and globe-embracing lyrics, the group's 1994 album, "Throwing Copper," has sold a whopping 6 million copies. At the Wiltern, a stop on a small-venue tour preceding a larger tour in the summer, the group proved that it's not content to ride on "Copper's" riches.

But Kowalczyk's meditations on fame and the human condition felt pretentious, and the loose-limbed music usually failed to gel into full-fledged songs. Making matters worse, the tour has apparently taken its toll--at one point the weary-looking Kowalczyk sheepishly asked, "Is there anyone out there with a voice I can borrow?"

The only indication of the great stage presence that earned the band its name came when the singer jumped on the drum riser and raised his arms to the heavens in reverence. But there were peaks, including the midnight-dark "Heropsychodreamer" and the soft, lovely "Ghost" (featuring backing vocals by the ethereal singer Jennifer Charles, from the group Elysian Fields).

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