LIVE: The Secret of Samadhi's Success
By Sheldon Noland, Campus Press, September 4, 1997
If there is any one reason for Live's success, it is that they simply work harder.
"We're not joking around up there," said Live drummer Chad Gracey in an interview with the Campus Press. "We never wanted to be slackers. I can't stand people who stand around in concert with no enthusiasm."
As grunge fades away by its own lack of creativity, simplistic guitar-driven rock is losing out to techno, industrial and a number of other computer-generated styles on cutting edge stations. Meanwhile, alterna-pop stations, too weary of ravers to play electronica, gravitate back to catchy pop ballads built around bright, thin, perky guitar melodies, or just rediscover retro and disco. Despite these emerging trends, the basic guitar-driven rock of Live still commands airplay.
Edward Kowalczyk, Patrick Dahlheimer, Chad Taylor and Chad Gracey don't have rock star names. In fact, they sound more like a law firm. They've never relied on flashy solos, publicity stunts, theatrics or giant mirrored lemons. It is the band's energy, passion and attention to detail that draws a dedicated following and sells out shows around the world.
Live's three albums are built on the same formula, yet they are all original and not laden with fillers.
Live's work ethic is most noticeable in concert. Kowalczyk flies around the stage and sings with such intensity that he needs to slip offstage to an oxygen mask at high altitude venues such as Red Rocks. The band generates so much enthusiasm on-stage that one wonders how the members can reach the same level of intensity night after night.
"Sometimes you find yourself too weary to go on stage," Gracey said. "But we love our songs enough that we get pumped up once we get on stage."
Gracey lays the foundation of Live's sound by reaching beyond typical rock drum beats. He uses variation around the kit, such as playing cymbal parts on the tom-tom drums, and more intricate beats to lay down percussion that is original without being flashy or overwhelming.
"I just lay back, and fill in the spaces that need to be filled," Gracey said. His rhythms blend so seamlessly with the music that many fans don't realize how dynamic his drumming really is until they see him play in concert.
"That drummer is really getting a workout," said one concert-goer at Friday's show at Red Rocks.
Patrick Dahleimer's raw, thundering bass lines run alongside Gracey's beats to round out the rhythm section.
Chad Taylor's thick guitar riffs are crafted so that the attention is focused on the way each note sounds, rather than just stuffing as many notes as possible in a single bar. These pieces are all intertwined to work together as a single cohesive sound, instead of simply layered over each other in the same tempo.
Together the band puts the punch behind Kowalczyk's intense lyrical poetry. Live have used essentially the same musical formula since their debut, Mental Jewelry, but have managed to keep their songs original. What has changed is the nature of Kowalczyk's lyrics, which followed his own spiritual progression.
On their 1991 debut Mental Jewelry, Kowalczyk's lyrics were direct and tangible, challenging listeners to question their beliefs:
Heard a lot of talk about this Jesus
a man of love, a man of strength
but what a man was two thousand years ago
means nothing at all to me today
he could have been telling me about my higher self,
but he only lived inside my prayer
so what he was may have been beautiful,
but the pain is right now and right here.
After Mental Jewelry, Kowalczyk went beyond questioning traditional beliefs and began to seek out ideas that he could believe in. This led him to the works of J. Krishnamurti.
"His idea is that thought itself is limited, that it is the essence of limitation and conditioning that we are constantly living from and acting from this conditioned state, and that we are never in the clarity of the present moment," said Kowalczyk on his personal web site. "He was the first person who really oriented me towards observing myself rather than just living as myself and not questioning anything."
Kowalczyk's lyrical writing began to progress along with his spiritual growth. The lyrics on the 1994 multi-platinum release Throwing Copper, were, as Gracey put it, "more of a reflection on society as Ed saw it." Kowalczyk's lyrics grew more metaphorical and more complex. Krishnamurti is even responsible for the name of Kowalczyk's pet tortoise, Murti.
Kowalczyk eventually found that while the teachings of Krishnamurti had opened his eyes, it didn't really change him.
"Even though these breakthroughs happened, it was still just me, the conditioned, limited machine of my mind." It was then that Kowalczyk read Adi Da Samraj's book, "The Method of the Siddhas."
Adi Da Samraj "is a 'Realized' Being, someone who has realized conscious unity with the Divine, someone who is the culmination of what it means to be a human being, which is free of the conditioning of the limited ego," Kowalczyk said on his web site. Kowalczyk considers Adi Da Samraj the strongest influence in his life and it shows in Live's newest music. The title of their latest release, Secret Samadhi, means a state of ecstatic absorption in the Divine.
The lyrics in Secret Samadhi, are essentially a stream of conscience that reflect Kowalczyk's changing spirituality.
While this all sounds really intense, Kowalczyk is not about to run off and become a monk.
"I haven't cut myself off from anything," he said. "I have chosen, with a spiritual practice, to deepen my understanding of my relationship to everything that is arising, and not just to go with the flow. And that is the essence of the music of Live, really, this sort of dissatisfaction with the way things are, with the limitation that just going with the flow represents."
With three albums under their belt, and over ten million albums sold, hard work has brought Live a career's worth of success. But this is only the beginning for the York, Pa. quartet. Having met and started playing in middle school, the band members are still in their mid-twenties. They have no intention of splitting up or taking an early retirement.
"We all decided in the beginning that we wanted to make a lifetime career out of this," Gracey said. "Whether we're a stadium band or not, we want to stick around as long as we can," Gracey said.
Gracey wouldn't speculate on what the future recordings would sound like.
"It just goes naturally," he said. "We'll do whatever comes to us."
He did say, however that the band would eventually like to have its own label. Considering what they've accomplished so far, there isn't much stopping them.