Midway through Live's show at George Washington University's Smith Center Saturday night, singer Edward Kowalczyk mentioned that the band's composition "Pillar of Davidson" was a "working song." The whole show demonstrated that he and the band are certainly familiar with the concept: They delivered a workmanlike 90 minutes. They got the job done skillfully enough, but with little inspiration.
"The Distance to Here," the title of Live's latest record, evokes the grind of touring, but if the Pennsylvania quartet was tired on the penultimate date of its current U.S. tour, the band members didn't show it. Kowalczyk and guitarist Chad Taylor leapt into action during the opening salvo of "Where Fishes Go" and "Operation Spirit," then maintained rock star calisthenics all evening.
The group added a keyboardist and extra guitarist, making alterna-hits "All Over You" and "Selling the Drama" appropriately lush. And Kowalczyk, once he shed sunglasses and silver-handled cane, was his old earnest self, half Bono, half Michael Stipe. He gave John Lennon's "Imagine" a wrenching reading, and dropped to his knees to sing "The Dolphin's Cry."
Still, the band just expertly re-created its panoply of late-'80s, post-Nirvana dramatic rock--but nothing more. For a band whose chief appeal lies in its emotional connection with listeners, the performance left the overriding impression of preprogrammed routine.