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POP MUSIC

Live Prefers Big Sound in Big Arenas

September 04, 1997|ROGER CATLIN | THE HARTFORD COURANT

For a band from small-town Pennsylvania, the music of Live certainly sounds better in big venues than it does in clubs.

"I think the way we write is designed to fill a big place," Ed Kowalczyk says from his home in Lancaster, Pa. "The energy of what we do, and how much we like to animate it on stage, is not served as well in small places."

A club tour earlier this year seemed at times more like an open rehearsal, with the four band members facing one another more than the audience.

This summer Live has reigned in amphitheaters, including a show on Sunday at the Greek Theatre.

"Arenas, to me, and especially sheds, are really great venues," Kowalczyk says. "You get that sea of humanity, but everybody can still see it and hear it. And that's really important to us."

To enhance the seeing and hearing, "we invested more time and effort into the production," he says, "not that it's going to be some crazy attempt at, like, Pink Floyd or 'Zoo TV' or something like that."

Of course, the domain of U2, whose "Zoo TV" grew to stadiums (and who only play stadiums during the current "PopMart" tour), is something still alien to Live. And maybe it's better that way, Kowalczyk says.

"In stadiums," he says, "it doesn't sound good. It's just too distant. It feels like it pushes the edge a little too far of what music is all about. It also becomes about the venue, instead of being about the band. It's like it becomes a stadium show first."

Kowalczyk says he hasn't seen the current U2 tour. But he all but groans at the mention of the Irish band's name. "Anybody who knows anything about Live knows that that comparison is prevalent in every single thing ever written about Live."

It's logical to a point, he says. "There's a deep connection from us with that band," he says. "In the beginning, that was the band we looked to and said, 'That's what we want to do.' "

But lately, there has been a goofy media-fueled competition between the two bands after a member of Live told a British music weekly that " 'if U2 would throw their sequencers out the window, we would kick their asses onstage,' " Kowalczyk quotes.

It was all "part of this tongue-in-cheek English rag thing that was trying to get us into an Oasis-Blur type of battle," Kowalczyk says.

In reality, it was likely U2 inspired Kowalczyk to join with his junior high school friends Chad Taylor on guitar, Patrick Dahlheimer on bass and Chad Gracey on drums and form the band in the early '80s.

What appealed to Kowalczyk about U2 in the beginning, he says, "was their spiritual quality. The fact that they weren't afraid, especially in the very beginning, to be willing to confess their love for Jesus. It was like, whoa! That's pretty amazing for a rock 'n' roll band in this climate. To be a rock 'n' roll band and confess something like that, and then also sing about it with a passion that was unique and not some cheesy Christian rock thing.

"And we're not Christians. But I identified with that earnest quality, and it communicated something very passionate to me that was very inspiring."

Live's music, too, from the beginning has been infused with the same kind of passion, although if there is a religious leaning, it is toward Eastern beliefs. The band's latest, which made its debut at No. 1 earlier this year, is called "Secret Samadhi"; its first single, "Lakini's Juice," is also full of obscure Buddhist-inspired imagery.

Although Kowalczyk has spoken about his dabbling in Eastern religions, has a guru and includes a meditation room on his home page on the World Wide Web, he says, "I've never allowed my specific personal practice or belief to be overtly integrated to the music. Because that's crossing the line into, 'We want you to think this.' And that's not what we're about.

"To me, in my heart of hearts, that's not how people found anything anyway. I always thought it odoriferous for people to go about trying to pummel others with their ideas. So we've been careful with that. But at the same time, it's impossible for me, because I'm so interested in my personal life, not to integrate it for me at some level. So it's always been just this oblique thing, especially on 'Secret Samadhi.'

"If there is a doctrine, a message behind Live, it's just that wordless intensity, that doesn't necessarily have to mean anything."

BE THERE

Live plays with Luscious Jackson and Manbreak on Sunday at the Greek Theatre, 2700 N. Vermont Ave., 7 p.m. $25 and $28. (213) 480-3232.

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