The History of the Rock Band Live

2014 promo photo of Live
Live (The Band). 2014 Promo Photo

The rock band Live got its start in 1985, when four teenage friends in York, Pennsylvania—vocalist Ed Kowalczyk, bassist Patrick Dahlheimer, drummer Chad Gracey, and guitarist Chad Taylor—began playing shows in their hometown area under the name Public Affection. Although the band name would change, the original lineup remained intact until 2011. The group gained more visibility and began touring more extensively after recording its self-released, cassette-only debut, "The Death of a Dictionary," in 1989. But they still needed to find a label.

Finding a Record Label

At the dawn of the 1990s, the band attracted interest from Radioactive Records, which signed the group, now known as Live, to a contract. "Mental Jewelry," the first album with the label, captured the band’s earnest hard-rock sound that incorporated Eastern philosophy and unconventional rhythmic styles. As with many band’s debuts, "Mental Jewelry" revealed Live’s nascent talents but lacked a certain amount of confidence. The album didn’t have much impact on the mainstream rock audience, but “Operation Spirit (The Tyranny of Tradition)” cracked the modern rock charts, and the album eventually went on to platinum sales.

Superstar Status

It wasn’t until Live's second album, 1994’s "Throwing Copper," that the band exploded into the mainstream. Toning down the spiritual searching of Kowalczyk’s lyrics from "Mental Jewelry," Live looked to the sweeping musical energy of groups like Pearl Jam and U2 for inspiration. The result was an album that dominated the charts and launched five singles that spanned the gamut from the brooding “Lightning Crashes” to “I Alone,” which transitioned from a soft verse into an explosive chorus, a popular sonic style of the era's grunge artists. Rock critics accused Live of derivativeness, but audiences warmly embraced the band.

Still Popular in Shifting Musical Times

By the time of Live’s next record, 1997’s more adventurous "Secret Samadhi," grunge had lost popularity, muscled aside by indie rock, electronica, and hip-hop. In the face of those commercial realities, "Secret Samadhi" sold very well, moving about 2 million copies in the U.S. alone, although it didn’t come close to matching "Throwing Copper’s" impressive totals. As with "Throwing Copper," the band balanced taut rockers like “Lakini's Juice” with quieter, romantic numbers such as “Turn My Head.”

Diminished Commercial Stature

The band’s last popular release, 1999’s "The Distance to Here," was an attempt to recapture the sound of "Throwing Copper," with the band re-teaming with that album’s producer, former Talking Heads member Jerry Harrison. While "The Distance to Here" managed to go platinum in the U.S., Live’s commercial relevance had greatly diminished since their heyday of the mid-'90s. “The Dolphin’s Cry” was a favorite of rock radio, but, like most of "The Distance to Here," it largely recycled Live’s past musical achievements rather than suggesting a new path or reinvigorated passion.

An Uncertain Future for an Influential Band

The 21st century has seen a further shrinking of Live’s fan base. 2001’s "V" was the band’s weakest seller by a wide margin. Two years later, "Birds of Pray" represented a slight rebound but was nowhere near the massive success of "Throwing Copper." Indicating the band’s shriveled commercial viability in the U.S., "Songs From Black Mountain" was released in 2006 in several other countries before it arrived on record shelves in America.

While the band’s glory days are probably behind them, the members of Live have nevertheless influenced a new generation of hard rock acts like Breaking Benjamin and Daughtry.

'Live at the ParadisoAmsterdam'

In November 2008, Live released "Live at the Paradiso—Amsterdam," a concert CD and DVD that included live performances of some of the band’s biggest hits, such as “Selling the Drama” and “I Alone.”

A New Frontman

In 2012, the band returned from a long hiatus, but without their frontman. With Kowalczyk no longer part of the picture, the group recruited Chris Shinn to be their new vocalist. Live's first tour with Shinn was the Summerland Tour 2013 with Everclear, Filter, and Sponge. The group began work on their first studio album since 2006’s "Songs From Black Mountain" in 2014.

'The Turn'

In October 2014, Live's eighth studio album, "The Turn," was released. Live's first album with singer Chris Shinn, formerly of the band Unified Theory, reunited the band with producer Jerry Harrison for the first time since 1999's "The Distance to Here." Live released its first single with Shinn on vocals, "The Way Around Is Through," in September 2014. The band with the unGoogleable name, Live, toured throughout 2014 and 2015.


The band announced in December 2016 that Kowalczyk was rejoining Live, and it would once again be the original lineup. As of March 2017, there was no news of new albums or tour dates, but the band's website said they were in the works.

Essential Album

"Awake: The Best of Live"
With even best-selling Live albums like "Throwing Copper" riddled with filler, the strongest pick is this greatest-hits collection. It’s always annoying when a group tries to emphasize weaker commercial albums on their best-ofs by neglecting legitimate hits from their creative peak, but even with that complaint, "Awake" is a fine primer on Live’s strengths as a brooding, hard-rocking band.


"The Death of a Dictionary" (1989)
"Mental Jewelry" (1991)
"Throwing Copper" (1994)
"Secret Samadhi" (1997)
"The Distance to Here" (1999)
"V" (2001)
"Birds of Pray" (2003)
"Awake: The Best of Live" (greatest hits) (2004)
"Songs From Black Mountain "(2006)
"The Turn" (2014)