Live Review & Photos: Ed Kowalczyk at the Belly Up, December 10, 2013

Ed Kowalczyk
Photos by Chris Maroulakos

Ego was always a central tenet of Live’s music. But whereas that band’s material was about transcending the ego, Ed Kowalczyk’s solo performance at the Belly Up was all about wallowing in it.

Live often explored how we are tied to the earth: obsessed with the worldly things that hold us back from reaching higher levels of consciousness. The lead singer and unmistakable voice of Live, Kowalczyk acted as a sort of spirit guide in a lot of ways. He’d go out, have supposedly transcendent experiences, then come back and write about them. Many of the group’s songs contained some kind of message or lesson.

Like Timothy Leary or Carlos Castaneda before him, Kowalczyk tried to interpret his own experiences with the unknown in a way that others could learn from. It wasn’t just the lyrics he wrote, but also the slight touches of mystery and foreboding in the songs that leant them such a beautifully psychedelic quality. Listening to Live for all of those years, the line between the band’s music and Kowalczyk’s identity became very blurred. As a vocalist, songwriter, and seeker of truth, he seemed to be the embodiment of what Live stood for in every way.

That all started to change after they broke up. Between the lawsuits from old band mates and his subsequent Christian rock success, thinking about who the modern-day Kowalczyk might have become tended to leave a nasty taste in the mouth. That taste grew all the more bitter after seeing him play the Belly Up last Tuesday night.

Seconds into the show’s opener, “All Over You,” Kowalczyk stepped back from the mic to let the audience do the singing. When he realized nobody was singing along (It was only the first song!) he shot a disappointed look and reluctantly stepped back up to the mic to resume vocal duties. This happened numerous times throughout the night, getting increasingly awkward each time, and his relationship with the audience began to grow tense. Clearly he had hoped to sing as little as possible, but the crowd wasn’t playing ball.

When he spoke to the audience between songs, it was hard to tell if his affected mannerisms were intended to poke fun at tough-guy stereotypes or if he actually perceived himself as some kind of rock and roll badass. Either way, Kowalczyk’s cocky swagger was confusing, uncomfortable, and off-putting. This wasn’t the inquisitive, spiritually inquisitive figure evoked by all those classic Live albums — this was a guy who seemed hungry for adoration and confused (and slightly angry) that he wasn’t getting it.

Kowalczyk’s set consisted of mostly Live material with some of his newer praise-the-Lord material sprinkled throughout. Some singers might get away with a tour centered around solo versions of their former band’s hits, but Live’s material felt painfully incomplete without its usual instrumentation. Despite Kowalczyk’s efforts to the contrary, his skeletal renditions of tracks like “Pillar of Davidson” and “The Distance” simply couldn’t stand on their own. Adding to the evening’s confusion, the sultry vocals that he had used so tastefully on Live’s albums were cranked to 11 during his performance — so much so that, at times, he sounded like he was making fun of his own singing style.

Despite Kowalczyk’s encore — which included a flaccid rendition of “Lightning Crashes” — failing to leave an impression, I left the Belly Up with my love for Live’s music still somehow intact. But I also left with full certainty that the man I had just listened to for over an hour would never make music I care about again.

Ed Kowalczyk at the Belly Up

10 thoughts on “Live Review & Photos: Ed Kowalczyk at the Belly Up, December 10, 2013”

  1. I look back on the Woodstock ’94 performance of Selling the Drama and I lament the loss of the skinny kid with incredible voice, whose only concern on stage seemed to be singing and playing as well as he could. His performances quickly deteriorated into a fiasco of narcissistic swagger. He managed to keep himself together enough for Secret Samadhi, but by the time The Distance To Here came out, the songs became hollow. He should have spent less time in the gym and more time songwriting. Maybe he’ll call up his bandmates one day and apologize for being such an idiot and they’ll get back together and write some enjoyable rock songs.

  2. U know how this saying goes,,,,,,, Everyone has an opinion,,,, depends where you follow…. Id stand with One… who ponders equally in Love, and our ability to be the extension of Life! I have a great,,, amazing respect for this man…. and ignorance… is not and opinion… tis a one sided view ! Muhhh Paula

  3. I had to laugh after reading this review. Because I have NO idea who the author is talking about. It surely can NOT be the Ed I know and love. Live (the one with Ed K.) was/is my favorite band of all time. I have been a fan of theirs since the beginning. When I heard about the breakup I was devastated. I was excited to hear Ed went out on his own and have followed him since. In my opinion, Live isn’t Live without Ed. They want to continue on being a band, great! Change their name! Live is NO LONGER! Live was Ed and CCP. But since Ed is gone, how can they continue on with their original name. The NEW Live doesn’t hold a candle to the old Live. And for those Ed haters out there, I’ve been to the I Alone acoustic show 4 times this year and never experienced anything that this author wrote about. Ed was gracious and humble and as powerfully explosive with his songs as ever. My thoughts… people must be Ed haters! Anyway Merry Christmas and Happy New Year…..and Ed, keep on rockin’ because you do it in a way a ROCK GOD should! Peace!

  4. My husband and I have been talking about this show off and on since we saw it. Thanks for posting this review so that I have a forum to vent my thoughts as well. As a huge live fan in the 90’s and early 2000’s I had to go see this show – Afterall, the last time I saw the band was in 2001 and I had always wanted to see Ed play acoustic since the MTV Unplugged days.

    This show was like Ed paying homage to his former self. There was no emotion, no affectations, no performance. He simply sang almost bitterly as if to say “I can’t believe I’m here doing this – I’m kind of a big deal, don’t you all know this?” I’ll be honest, I don’t think that the audience sang along because I don’t think the majority of the audience knew who they were there to see…he knew this and struggled.

    Did it feel great to hear some Live songs that I hadn’t heard in 10 years, yes. Did I feel like there was an impersonator on the stage, sometimes. The only song where I felt Ed was truly passionate and into the song was when he played Selling the Drama…that was the only thing he sold to me. I would’ve loved to hear a few songs from Secret Samadhi (not a ballad).

    Afterwards he hung around to sign autographs…this felt very strange to me. First of all, had my favorite rock idol really come to this? Secondly, I felt that this is something that his PR company is forcing him to do – The whole time I watched him standing there I got the feeling again that he was thinking to himself “Don’t you all realize that I’m kind of a big deal rock star?” Thirdly, he had a perma-grin plastered on his face the entire time he signed autographs and took photos. I felt like I was at a wax museum. It was creepy and not in the good creepy Throwing Copper era Ed way.

    The whole thing just felt so cheap and ungenuine! Maybe I am over-analyzing but the reason I listened to Live’s music was to feel something – didn’t we all? Maybe we’re all just getting older. If you think I’m wrong, put me in check. If you agree, would love to hear your thoughts!

    1. “I saw the band … in 2001”; “… I hadn’t heard in 10 years …”, “he hung around to sign autographs” …

      I’m sorry but you are no fan … and I too would suggest that the author of the “review” clearly is not either.

      Firstly – if you had ever been to a solo Ed concert you would know that he more often than not hangs around for a meet and greet – signs autographs, takes time out to thank his fans and take some pics with us – THANK GOD! I would love it if more of my idols would do the same … His PR doesn’t MAKE him do it … he does it for the love of his fans … clearly you’re not a fan of his on FB,Twitter etc and haven’t seen or partaken in the online conversations, watched special vids he posts etc

      How could you not have listened to any of the songs in 10 years? Does your radio station suck? Do you not own any CD’s or mp3 downloads? Even my 2,4 and 7 year old daughters can sing along with almost all Live songs as well as Ed’s solo career music because we play music to them daily – around the house, in the car, everywhere!There are tonnes of CDs and USB sticks in our house with music on it from Live, Ed, and all other kinds … get out and live a little.

      I would suggest that you actually go and listen back through all the Live albums and through Ed’s solo albums and really LISTEN to them – you will see that there is emotion there, big time.

  5. Interesting, as one who hasn’t heard any Live other than their 90s radio hits I was unaware which ‘side’ of the split fans blamed but this gives a pretty good idea.

    FYI, the floating facebook/twitter/etc share bar at the left of the screen obscures the first text column at least in Firefox. Pretty annoying, and disincentive to read further.

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