October 9, 2018 Live – Local 717 (EP Review)
A dozen years have passed since the original Live lineup released new music, but that gap is about to close with Local 717, a brisk twenty-minute EP due out Friday, October 12th through Kavalry Records.
Highly anticipated amongst fans, Local 717 contains four new tracks before ending with a cover of “Venus in Furs,” originally written by the Velvet Underground for their 1967 debut, The Velvet Underground & Nico. The EP also marks the first time founding members Ed Kowalczyk (vocals, guitar), Chad Taylor (guitar, backing vocals), Patrick Dahlheimer (bass), and Chad Gracey (drums, percussion) have recorded together since Songs from Black Mountain in 2006, an album which capped almost two decades of recording success. So, does their return as a unit to the studio live up to expectations?
Before answering that question, let’s briefly look at three decade plus history of Live that has led to this point. Originally performing under the name Public Affection, the band switched to the more familiar Live moniker and released a strong debut, Mental Jewelry, in 1991, but as everyone knows, it was their 1994 sophomore album, Throwing Copper, that would land them massive mainstream success, selling in excess of ten million records. Its two immediate follow-ups, 1997’s Secret Samadhi and 1999’s The Distance to Here, each sold millions more.
Several albums followed, each with limited success, before the band agreed to take a hiatus in 2009. Kowalczyk went on to release his debut solo album, Alive, in 2010, followed by an EP, The Garden, in 2012, and a second solo album, The Flood and the Mercy, the following year. The break soon became effectively permanent, and in the wake of that change, Taylor, Dahlheimer, and Gracey combined forces with Kevin Martin and Sean Hennessy of Candlebox to form The Gracious Few, which released an eponymous debut in 2010. In 2014, those same three members announced they had recruited vocalist Chris Shinn to record a new album of Live material, an effort which materialized in 2014 as The Turn. Fast-forward to the fall of 2016, with a few legal hassles set aside, the four original members began meeting again to discuss live shows and new material.
Which leads us to today where Live is eager to release some new music. Interestingly enough, Local 717 takes its name from the telephone area code which once covered most of eastern Pennsylvania and still covers York, the band’s beloved hometown. Giving fans a sample of the new material, Live has already released two singles from Local 717, “Love Lounge” and “Be a Giver, Man,” with video content to match.
“Love Lounge” is an opener in the truest sense of the word; it was the first single, the first track on the EP, and it is a roaring Rock-n-Roll trip forcefully announcing the opening of the band’s return. The bright wailing guitar riffs almost bring the Cult to mind. This is while the lyrics make subtle suggestion that while the band is back together with positive vibes and a long outlook, things should still move a bit slowly. That said, the call of “shoot that fear!” leaves little doubt that the band is back on solid footing. Furthermore, Taylor’s guitar work is impressively subtle here, and it is clear his time, like that of the other members, was wisely spent in the interim.
“Be a Giver, Man” may have an obvious message, but that is essentially the point – no one seems to want to live by this small, important, almost trite credo. Here, Kowalczyk belts, “I believe / that what you give / is what you receive,” leading into a spaced-out refrain book-ended by calls for decency from Kowalczyk and more impressive guitar from Taylor. Additionally, the track also features an appearance from Drummer Stephen Perkins of Jane’s Addiction.
Moving forward, “Waterfall” is a song dominated by the rhythm section, particularly the drumming of Chad Gracey, as Kowalczyk continues his old habits of near-awkward rhyming and singing patterns. This song slows the rollicking pace of the EP a bit, but perhaps the short rest is necessary. Patrick Dahlheimer moves a little out of the background for “Brother,” taking his distinct bass sound to the forefront for the rhythms behind both the verses and the chorus. Overall, the track picks up the speed again, and closes the original portion of the EP with aplomb.
Finally, the closing cover of “Venus in Furs” feels almost out of place for the band. While this song has been covered by dozens of artists in multiple genres, the execution goes well enough, and the mere choice to cover it is enough to be unique. Kowalczyk has a voice that adapts well to the varied pace of the track, while the rest of the band manages to contain themselves from speeding the tempo as compared to the rest of the EP.
Overall, the four original songs on Local 717 contain more than enough material to get excited about, and the out-of-character cover work as well. That is why CrypticRock proudly gives the return EP from Live 3.5 out of 5 stars.