LIGHTNING CRASHES FOR FOUR YOUNG FARM BOYS-TURNED-ROCKERS

By Jeff Gordinier
March 17, 1995 at 05:00 AM EST

Chad Taylor leaves the dressing room, shuffles down a stairway, and enters the Temple. Actually, the Temple is just a stage at New York’s Brooklyn Academy of Music-tonight, guitarist Taylor and his bandmates from Live will tape an episode of MTV Unplugged here-but the place has been dressed up like a church. White candles. Crimson curtains. A heap of moldy, tattered books that look like Bibles and hymnals. ”Man, the set looks incredible,” exclaims Taylor, 24, still more a Pennsylvania country boy than a rock star. Catching a glimpse of his own seat, Taylor hushes as if it’s a throne. ”Is that me over there? Cool.” You might find something hokey in all this sacred iconography-bassist Patrick Dahlheimer, 23, snarkily describes it as ”metty-phorical”-but it does make sense. Live is about to venture into a veritable holy ground of pop music: Unplugged, the same series that brought you Eric ”God” Clapton’s commercial resurrection and Kurt Cobain’s last stand. For a tenderfoot act like Live, MTV’s stripped-down jamboree amounts to a baptism by fire: Either burn it up or burn out. ”It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. We’ve been worthy of it ever since we started with our records (in 1991),” says singer Ed Kowalczyk, 23, ”but it’s just a matter of getting to the point where people recognized our success.” He’s right, and so is the timing. ”Lightning Crashes” has landed in MTV’s omnipotent Buzz Bin. The quartet’s second disc, Throwing Copper, is taking a joyride on the pop charts, selling more than a million copies and recently leaping to No. 8. Add a few dollops of insider fluff-Kowalczyk is phone pals – with R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe; Live’s mentor is erstwhile Talking Head Jerry Harrison-and after only two albums, the four farm boys from York, Pa., are being groomed for the big leagues. ”We look for artists that we think can go to the next level,” says MTV’s senior vice president of music and programming Andy Schuon, who helps pick bands for Unplugged. ”In the case of Live, they’ve got what it takes.” ”We’ve known it all along,” Kowalczyk says with a candor rare in the rock world. ”We know that our fifth record, or sixth, or the next one, will be absolutely amazing. I mean, we will make a record that will be around for years and years. It’s just part of the whole game plan.” ”When newborn babies first start to crawl, and first start to explore new places, they can’t climb down stairs,” adds Taylor. ”They can only climb up stairs. The whole trick is that if they look down, they can’t climb anymore. They have to stop. Our band really relates to that: I don’t think we knew how to look down.” You can hear that hubris in the music. Forsaking the soggy nihilism of so much ’90s rock, Live serves up the kind of lush, uplifting, thunderbolts-over- the-moors anthems that haven’t been heard since the ’80s heyday of U2 and Big Country. Last year, after playing a gargantuan festival in Brazil, ”we watched the tape back and it was like, ‘Damn, we really look like we know what we’re doing!”’ says Kowalczyk. ”It was our very first stadium show, and it looked like we had grown up in that environment,” adds Taylor. This Brooklyn crowd is a lot smaller-enough people to fill a few school buses, not a stadium-but the stakes are higher. Knowing this, Kowalczyk has given his Hare Krishna pate a fresh shave, dyeing the peach fuzz a slight tint of orange. ”I looked like Green Day,” he says, ”so I cut it.” Dahlheimer has fueled up with carbohydrates. Taylor is battling a cold. ”I just took tons of cough syrup,” he says, ”so I’m either gonna pass out or feel real good.” Taylor is also grappling with the challenge of downsizing his six-string style to suit the Unplugged format: ”Most of the guitar stuff that I play revolves around feedback. I am really an electric guitar player. I guess that’s why they have Unplugged, so guitar players can suffer.” Brows furrowed and eyes locked, Live mounts the stage solemnly and slips into the percolating rhythms of the 1991 single ”Operation Spirit.” Kowalczyk’s voice hesitates for a beat or two, then rises to a howl. A whisper goes through the audience-”These guys mean it”-and within seconds the crowd lets loose with a torrent of whoops. ”Bear with all the religious imagery on stage,” Kowalczyk tells them. ”It’s a York, Pa., thing.”

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