By BRUCE DENNILL
Live: Reunion World Tour / Sun Arena Times Square, Menlyn, Pretoria / 10 November 2017
Given that Live has toured South Africa before – as has singer Ed Kowalczyk on a solo tour to mark the 20th anniversary of the band’s album Throwing Copper, as this tour marks the 25th anniversary of their debut collection, Mental Jewelry – there was a sense leading up to these shows that there might be a sense of “been there, done that” at these South African shows.
As attested to by the capacity crowd, that wouldn’t necessarily have been a bad thing, but Live may have sniffed out this particular issue before embarking on this tour, as they now include in the band – in addition to Kowalczyk, guitarist Chad Taylor, bassist Patrick Dahlheimer and drummer Chad Gracey – an additional guitarist in Zak Loy (who worked with Kowalczyk on his solo tours) and, interestingly, a second drummer in Adam Diaz. Gracey is an incredibly skilful, powerful drummer on his own, but Diaz is able to match him on both counts, and the effect is a beautiful brutality that drives already strident songs given more mass by Loy’s guitar. This means that the dynamics of some traditionally towering rock songs are magnified and boosted to an extend where the kick drums can be felt in the superstructure of the venue, which vibrates, and in the involuntary contraction of your lungs, which makes you feel short of breath, as you might on a fairground ride.
The band looks and sounds genuinely revitalised, with Taylor in particular throwing his weight into the familiar riffs of the band’s big hits, high-stepping and slamming his boot down to emphasise an accent or a beat. For long periods, they hardly pause between songs, building up momentum and an energy that infuses the crowd, at least parts of which sings along to almost every song.
Kowalczyk editorialises considerably in his vocal lines, wandering off the original melodies with regularity, probably to keep himself as enthusiastic as he sings the same tunes four or five times a week. That’s not an issue, as everyone listening knows exactly where the song is headed, but it does occasionally take some of the edge off a few of the strongest individual lines in their canon.
The setlist includes every fan favourite – I Alone, Selling The Drama, All Over You, Lightning Crashes, the magnificent Pillar Of Davidson, The Dolphin’s Cry, The Distance, Run To The Water, the thundering Lakini’s Juice, Turn My Head, Heaven, and more. But it is often the songs from Mental Jewelry, understandably not as familiar to the younger members of the audience, that stand out for their their melodies and propulsive power, which in retrospect was a clear marker of what was to come. Pain Lies On The Riverside, The Beauty Of Gray and the lovely Mirror Song were all magnificent.
For all the historical markers involved in promoting this tour – anniversaries, reunions and so on – Live is not a heritage band colouring in by sonic numbers. They are a vital force, with a sublime back catalogue that will hopefully continue to be expanded. Long may they, er, Live.