Bowing at the Alt Altar

Singer Ed Kowalczyk explains Live's longevity

At the height of the alternative surge of the early '90s, Live -- with a long i, named after the setting in which the group felt most at home -- embodied the best of American pop. The outsider band from Pennsylvania tapped into the national consciousness with a string of fervent, radio-dominating singles across a trio of unusually profound albums. Its complex, airtight compositions and pensive, liberating lyrics engaged a vast array of fans and quite possibly elevated pop music's quota on introspection and soul searching. Live's laser-voiced singer, Ed Kowalczyk, spoke with Outtakes about those days of yore:

Outtakes: Back then, it was called alternative. Today, it's indie. But there's always been music that's countered the mainstream.

Kowalczyk: Yeah, there definitely has to be. It's a different world for rock 'n' roll than it was in the mid-'90s. But it's interesting that even though there's this new wave of bands, there's always an appreciation for bands that don't change with the trends, like U2, that always stay true to themselves. And somehow even though their sound may be 20 years old and they may be a huge pop band; they're still against the mainstream, they're still not like anything else. I think Live is like that too.

Live, livin' large
Live, livin' large

Are your audiences more veteran fans from back then or newbies?

I think both -- as our crowd gets older, it also gets younger. I've always called it the "Uncle Phenomenon," where your big brother or uncle's like, 'OK, your music's cool, but if you really want to be cool, come see this band.' You end up getting kind of uncled in.

Where does the band's staying power come from?

The average Live song has an emotional depth that people really appreciate. So many people have adopted these songs as the soundtrack to the emotional landscape of their lives. I look down from the stage into the audience, and I see tears in people's eyes. So as a songwriter, that's what inspires me to keep going to the deep places within myself.

You guys have always been known for your ferocious live show. Fifteen years later, do you still deliver?

It's funny -- even though we're older, we're better in concert. We've definitely grown as performers in terms of our musical range of what we can give on-stage. Dynamically, that's grown just as much as songwriting over the last ten years. People who saw us for the only time in '95, '96 need to come see us now, because we're putting out an entirely different show.

Plus, you're playing at an Indian gaming resort. It's like a 24-hour party zone.

A 24-hour party zone sounds like the kind of place I want to play. -- Jonathan Zwickel

Live performs at 8 p.m. Tuesday, August 9, at the Hard Rock Live Arena, 5747 Seminole Way, Hollywood. Tickets cost $42.50. Call 954-523-3309.

Not So Much Like a Rock

Many music-minded viewers of the MLB All-Star Game earlier this month were shocked at Chevrolet's newest commercial. There were the standard shots of a Chevy crashing and splashing through rocky streams and flannel-shirted rednecks tossing bales of hay. But what's that music playing in the background -- familiar yet, given its surroundings, completely out of place?

The Chevy logo appeared with a new slogan, accompanied by the gravelly voice of none other than Steve Earle: "The Revolution Starts Now!" This is the same Steve Earle who boasted he's to the left of Chairman Mao, who dared to write a sympathetic song about John Walker Lindh, who likens his politically charged music to a weapon, the same way his hero Woody Guthrie scrawled This machine kills fascists on his guitar.

So now this man is a common shill, another Toby "I'm a Ford Truck Man" Keith? And of all his songs, why did it have to be "The Revolution Starts Now," a call to arms against Dubya and his war for oil, in an ad for gas-guzzling Chevy trucks?

Before you cry sellout, remember this about Steve Earle: He's a man with six ex-wives and close to an equal number of ex-managers, some to whom he still owes money. (Full disclosure: My father is one of the latter, and he once sued Earle for more than $40,000 and won.) He also supports his retired parents and several of his children, including an illegitimate one that surfaced after he beat his drug addiction, not to mention other kin and even friends. (More disclosure, balancing the first one: Earle once gave my stepfather and now-deceased mom the down payment for a house in Nashville.) In his 2003 biography, Earle told author Lauren St. John that his overhead was then $35,000 a month.

Kinda reminds me of a quote from bluesman R.L. Burnside, a musician with similar family obligations, if on a smaller scale: "Man," he once told a reporter, "I got to put 12 biscuits on the table 'fore I get to eat even one."

Chevy ad deals buy a lot of biscuits, people. What's more, Chevy is an American company that provides a lot of increasingly rare, blue-collar, living-wage jobs. Sure, it will rob one of Earle's songs of some of its pure radical power. Get over it. He'll write more, and as it happens, Earle was wrong. Dubya won, and the revolution still hasn't started. -- John Nova Lomax

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