Standing directly in front of the stage speakers is, by all rights, a very bad idea. But when the bands responsible for majority of the soundtrack to your formative years were right in front of you, the nostalgic rush all but takes precedence over concern for your eardrums’ wellbeing. Never mind the fact that you still can’t pronounce the front man’s surname correctly; after all, “Ed” is easy enough to remember.
After a regrettable cycle of tour date reschedulings, American rock group Live’s former front man Ed Kowalczyk finally arrived in Manila to take eager ’90s babies for a much-anticipated stroll down rock memory lane, along with fellow US outfit Vertical Horizon. This back-to-back concert came hot on the heels of another post-grunge legend, The Cranberries (see separate story).
Coincidence or not, one can’t deny the humor in the observation that both front men were dead ringers for each other, from the shining bald heads down to the black shirt-and-jeans ensemble. It even prompted some smart-alecky concertgoers to shout “I love you, Ed!” while Vertical Horizon was performing.
Cheeky side comments notwithstanding, there are other notable similarities that the two bands share. Aside from the doppelganger vocalists, both bands have been an integral part of the post-grunge rock scene and have had religious references in their lyricism.
Any child of the ’90s would have Live’s sophomore album “Throwing Copper” on their CD racks. “Lightning Crashes,” “I Alone,” “Selling The Drama” and later on, “Dolphin’s Cry” and “Heaven” were some of the enduring anthems that the US alt-rock band had been known for; they were hard and heartfelt enough for a childhood tantrum, but relatively expletive-free and “spiritual” enough to mollify the ’rents who were annoyed enough by the earsplitting volume of our boom boxes.
Vertical Horizon (VH), meanwhile, evokes a similar gamut of sounds and emotions, although its repertoire is more acoustic-driven. The band from Washington DC broke through the pop charts with the 1999 album/single “Everything You Want,” which spawned radio-friendly hits such as “You’re A God” and “Best I Ever Had (Grey Sky Morning).” This was soon followed by “I’m Still Here” and “Forever,” from the 2003 album “Go.”
The alt-rock band composed of Matthew Scannell (lead vocals/lead guitar), Jason Onme (rhythm guitar/backing vocals), Cedric LeMoyne (bass guitar/backing vocals), and Ron Lavella (drums) was the first to perform. One who’s familiar with the two bands performing that night might deem VH as the decidedly younger one in terms of hits and, perhaps to a certain extent, fan base.
The audience was cautious at first, but when the band started playing the old favorites, the children of the early 2000s (or anyone who’d gone though some form of teenage angst) rushed towards the stage and stayed there for the rest of the set. The band treated the fans with the guitar-driven track “Save Me From Myself” from the band’s most recent album, 2009’s “Burning The Days.” In true save-the-best-for-last fashion, the band ended with the band’s 1999 breakout single “Everything You Want,” whose familiar guitar intro sent everyone into a whooping frenzy.
Unlike Kowalczyk, for whom this concert marked his first-ever visit to Manila, VH was no stranger to the warm Pinoy reception. Before they left the stage, they were practically begging to come back. And, judging from the turnout in both Manila and Cebu gigs this year, why wouldn’t they?
A-Live and kicking
Thanks to Chris Daughtry, children of the “American Idol” generation rediscovered Live’s music, which probably accounts for the younger concertgoers who literally looked like they were still in diapers when the band first came together. But for a good many people filling Smart Araneta Coliseum that night, this gig was a long time coming.
When news of Kowalczyk’s solo tour in Manila first broke out, it had Pinoy Live fans wondering what exactly the erstwhile front man has up his sleeve post-departure from the band. However, we were assured that all of our beloved hits would be performed, as well as songs from his solo endeavor “Alive.” And, with a new band at his disposal, he gave us just that.
Without preamble, Kowalczyk hopped right away on the lingering high that “Everything You Want” had left and opened with “All Over You,” which got the older members of the audience elbowing their way towards the stage. After all, Live did become popular years before Vertical Horizon hit it big. A powerhouse from beginning to end, Kowalczyk played a full set with his band, dishing all the aforementioned number one hits plus the crowd favorite “Lakini’s Juice” from Live’s third album “Secret Samadhi.”
While it couldn’t be helped that practically everyone in the audience came for the old hits, Kowalczyk’s more recent offerings from his solo album “Alive,” such as “Drink (Everlasting Love),” “Grace,” and “Zion” still had that gripping appeal stamped all over them. Whether old or new, his songs had that familiar momentum-building pattern to it—the melody slowly creeps up at first, his raspy vocals gaining power, then exploding into the chorus with the full might of the band backing up his growl.
It hardly mattered what issue his ever-evocative lyrics were tackling at the moment; people just sang/shouted along with so much feeling, whether it’s about obsessing over love (“Lakini’s Juice”), rediscovering the joy of a new life (“Heaven”) or raging against the political machine (“Selling The Drama”). It was more than just a one-time trip down memory lane; it was pure catharsis. Oh, what a joyride this trip has proven itself to be.
“Live’s Ed Kowalczyk and Vertical Horizon live in Manila” was presented by Ovation Productions.