A happy birthday high five to Ed Kowalczyk today. The Live frontman and solo artist is now 39 years old. Ever since Live first scored a bit of attention with their 1991 album Mental Jewelry (and especially since they became mainstream superstars with 1994's Throwing Copper), Kowalczyk has inhabited an unusual place as one of the alt-rock generation's least likely frontmen. Identified by his signature shaved head and spastic on-stage dance moves (he's a lot like Michael Stipe in both those cases), Kowalczyk took his band from the garages of York, Pennsylvania to the top of the rock world.
Nobody quite knew what to do with Live when they first hit the rock scene (nor did anybody know how to properly pronounce their name — was the vowel long or short?). They were steeped in religious imagery and played a gritty but pop-savvy brand of indie rock that borrowed equally from '80s alternative (namely R.E.M. and U2) and big-hook arena rock. A few tunes from Mental Jewelry got some attention on college radio (especially the driving album-opening anthem "Pain Lies on the Riverside"), but it wasn't until their follow-up album Throwing Copper that Live became a multi-platinum international force. Listening to it now, it feels like one of those albums where every track is a single (because many of them were). "Selling the Drama," "I Alone" and "White, Discussion" were all huge hits on modern rock radio, but it was "Lightning Crashes" that made the band into icons. With the help of a moody, mysterious video, "Lightning Crashes" became a huge inescapable anthem that was all over radio and MTV, despite its deliberate pace and lyrics like "Her placenta falls to the floor."
Live hit hard it big in 1997 with Secret Samadhi (which debuted on top of the Billboard album chart and featured the singles "Lakini's Juice" and "Turn My Head") and again in 199 with The Distance to Here (which featured "The Dolphin's Cry"). The new century saw them continue to churn out big hits, though a hiatus recently turned into a full-fledged break-up after a disagreement within the band over money. Kowalczyk has moved on, as he recently dropped his first solo album Alive, which even more deeply spiritual than his work with his former band (and also features a great, rocking tune co-written with Chris Daughtry).
If nothing else, Live can stand by the fact that they performed on one of the best episodes of "MTV Unplugged" in the show's history. Their performance of "All Over You" is especially tight.