After having to reschedule its November show at the Agora due to illness, Live finally played Cleveland last Saturday night, with all the fury of rolling thunder chasing the wind. Heavily favored just a few years back as the band most likely to follow in the idealistic footsteps of U2 and R.E.M., the York, Pennsylvania group has yet to achieve arena status. No matter -- its sold-out, energetic Agora Theatre show wasn't about living up to expectations as much as it was about reliving radio hits and solidifying the band's position for the future. In that regard, Live proved itself worthy by presenting a 17-song set that spanned its four albums.
Tall and lanky with a shaved head, singer Ed Kowalczyk played the part of the rock star well. He arrived on stage wearing red pants, large black shoes, and shades, and moved his wiry body as though he were a puppet on a string. Kowalczyk, the linchpin in the success or failure of the band's live performances, was called upon to lead each song with his distinct voice. He took the band into a down-and-dirty delivery ("Lakini's Juice"), elevated its music with a falsetto ("Where Fishes Go"), and delivered a momentum-building refrain ("Lightning Crashes"). And he often incorporated all three styles in one song ("The Distance").
A good example of the quintessential Live style/song structure was "Sparkle," from its latest release, The Distance. The tapestry of sound was precisely woven, with crashing cymbals, a grinding guitar effect, bellowing vocals, and added nuances (lone piano chords and orchestral keyboards) that bewitched the crowd, creating the intense atmosphere typical of the band. A reverent cover of John Lennon's "Imagine" was Live's way of paying homage to the fallen Beatle. Other highlights included the positive-minded "Run to the Water," the acoustic-driven "Selling the Drama," and a predictable encore that featured two of the band's biggest hits -- "Lightning Crashes" and "I Alone." -- John Benson