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Between Live and madness lies... obsession

[Originally published 1993 |
Updated here 1999.06.20

Pop music can recede into the background or grab you by the mental shirtcollar and not let go. Sometimes you (or I, anyway) can't get a song out of your head. I've been smitten by a number of singles lately – New Order's "Regret," the Smithereens' cover of "It Don't Come Easy," David Byrne's Red Hot & Blue version of "Don't Fence Me In" – but even more obsessed with a quartet o' lads from Pennsylvania called Live (rhymes with jive).

I mentioned these krazy kidz en passant in my gossip column a few months back, but now it's time to give them a more substantial plug. Their auspicious début, Mental Jewelry, showed the Live kids to be concerned with, and bewildered and troubled by, peace and war, compassion, and brotherly love. That's agape, not eros, honey, and don't get any ideas from the fact that virtually all the pronouns on the album are male (as in "Brothers Unaware": "Yes, I may say that I love this man and that man, but what keeps me from loving you?"). As in real life, feelings are a tad more complex here in Live-land.

These guys cavort in videos and appear in their liner notes shirtless. They're skinny and boyish and suffused with the unselfconscious trust and naïveté you find among childhood friends (compare the film Breaking Away). Far from coming off as treacly, this mishmash of sentiment stems from what is obviously a devout Christian faith. (Take that finger out of your mouth this instant! If Kate Bush can make musical deals with God and Boy George can meld his Krishna beliefs with dance music, presumably we have room in our record collections for some crypto-Christian rock.)

Musically, the kids are not merely alright but more or less airtight at the helm of their instruments. It also helps that crooner Ed Kowalczyk has what can only be described as a funny voice – not quite as funny as Carol Channing's, but just off-kilter enough to stick with you. At times he can barely control the words as they tumble out of his mouth; it's the kind of energy you find in that rarity, the vocalist/drummer. (Someone else, Chad Gracey, actually handles percussion in Live.) It's nothing short of a miracle that this musical and textual complexity made it through the recording process and past the biases of petty label urchins concerned with sales and demographics at the expense of art. But maybe the label is having its revenge later rather than sooner: Word in the biz is that Live has recorded a full 30 songs for a new album, but Radioactive Records likes only a handful of them and has sent the boys back to the drawing board. Huh?

Here's what's been happening with some other Queer in Your Ear faves: