The four members of LIVE met in their York, PA high school before forming a band to compete in a school talent show. They mixed in the angst of being trapped in a nowhere city, the crisis of spiritual identity and a love of rebellious noise and came out with "Mental Jewelry." The three songs from that CD here lay out the blueprint for the next couple decades of LIVE material. Earnest vocals with lyrics that reflect a quest for spiritual ascendance.
Under the hand of Talking Head Jerry Harrison, who kept the band's recorded sound dense and textured, LIVE got better fast. They cut a masterpiece on the second try. "Throwing Copper" opened with the shouts of "Lightning Crashes" and "Selling The Drama," contained the fighting "I Alone," and the moral diatribe of "White, Discussion." This was a powerful, passionate album and it made them stars. The follow up, "Secret Samadhi," was darker in tone but more direct. "Turn My Head" was the closest thing to an actual love song, and "Lakini's Juice" mirrored Led Zepplin more than U2.
It was right about now that LIVE began to lose their footing. "The Distance To Here" began a shift towards a maturity that took away from the band's edge. While Ed Kowlaczyk may claim that this is his favorite of the LIVE albums, it is the point where LIVE began to experiment with their basic sound. On "Distance's" best song, "The Dolphin's Cry," it works, but for most of the album, it just seemed uncharacteristic. "V" suffered from the same hodgepodge (Tricky rapping with Ed, too much electronic noodling, etc), but it also contained the transcendent "Overcome," which seemed to appear from nowhere after the horror of 9/11, giving voice to the feelings of a national anguish. "Birds Of Pray" tries to return to form, but comes off as over baked. While the duet with Shelby Lynne, "Run Away," is terrific, the cheesy religious ballad "Heaven" is entirely forgettable. Fortunately, "Awake!" closes with a fine cover of Johnny Cash's "I Walk The Line."
PS: The bonus DVD with the deluxe version is definitely worth picking up. In addition to a few of the songs left of the CD, ("Freaks," "They Stood Up For Love" and a couple live tracks), you get "Simple Creed," probably one of the two decent tracks from "V." The other "V" video for "Overcome" may be a tougher watch, as it is made from 9/11 footage. It's also worth getting to see the youthful exuberance of LIVE's first video, "Operation Spirit."