Welcome back to The Rock Show, where it’s all about the music! Bethlehem finished up its annual Musikfest last night, featuring headliners Train and Ed Kowalczyk, on the Sands Steel Stage and the Musikfest Cafe, respectively. I was fortunate enough to be at the Ed Kowalczyk show, and it was definitely one of the most memorable concert experiences I’ve had. There were very few people there; there couldn’t have been more than 200 on the floor, so consequently everyone was able to be extremely close to the stage. Here’s the set list from the show, and this time I can vouch for the accuracy:
- All Over You *
- Turn My Head *
- The Great Beyond **
- The Distance *
- Selling the Drama *
- Drink (Everlasting Love) **
- Zion **
- The Dolphin’s Cry *
- Stand **
- Heaven *
- Grace **
- White, Discussion *
- I Alone *
- Just in Time **
- The Beauty of Gray *
- Lakini’s Juice *
- Lightning Crashes *
* Live song
** Ed Kowalczyk solo album song
Let me first say that I’ve tried to see Live multiple times with no success. There was a show at Festival Pier a few years ago while I was on vacation, a show up at the House of Blues while I was at school, and then an Ed Kowalczyk solo show at the Tower Theater last September, again while I was at school. So when I found out that Ed was playing Musikfest this year, there was no way I wasn’t going to be there. The ArtsQuest Center is a very new venue, so getting to go there for the show was really cool, especially Musikfest Cafe. The show room was surprisingly small – much smaller than the Electric Factory, but quite wide. The best part, however, was the back wall behind the stage; it’s all windows that look out right over the blast furnaces of the Bethlehem Steel plant. At night the steel stacks are lit up and provide quite an amazing backdrop to the concert. The balcony seating was packed, but there were very few people on the floor, making the concert setting extremely intimate. The farthest people were still only about six or seven bodies away from the stage.
The lights went down as a recording of Ave Maria played overhead. The way that Musikfest Cafe is laid out, the performers walk across the balcony and down the side stairs before taking the stage, so when Ed and his band began to descend the stairs you could feel the anticipation mounting. The beginning of the show, however, had a bit of a sound problem. When the band began to play, the guitar made no noise. The opening riffs of “All Over You” were reduced to a bassline and drum beat, with the guitar going in and out. Ed’s singing, however, was top notch, and in reality the sound issue wasn’t too noticeable when the song got underway. After “All Over You” ended, Ed stepped to the microphone to address the crowd. He mentioned the sound trouble, but spent some time talking to the crowd while the tech crew sorted out the problem. After making some comments about the beautiful view from the windows and asking for a beer, some fans suggested that he play something acoustic to fill the time. As strange as that may sound, there were few enough people and the venue was small enough that addressing the crowd was essentially like a conversation. He chuckled and said “Why didn’t I think of that?” After grabbing his acoustic and plugging in, we were treated to an acoustic performance of “Turn My Head,” which may or may not have been in the official set list for the night. Either way, it was awesome.
As the acoustic performance came to an end, the sound crew gave a thumbs up. The sound was fixed, and the show was on. While there were one or two more little blips throughout the night, the rest of the show continued essentially without issue. Ed riled up the crowd as the band began playing “The Great Beyond,” the first song of the night from his solo album, Alive. What was really cool about the show was that he did play quite a lot from the solo album – six songs out of the seventeen song set. It’s great that he’s actually enthusiastic about playing that stuff and not just using it as an excuse to tour all the old Live hits. The solo album could very well have been a Live album, anyway, based on how it sounds. “The Distance” followed, featuring an awesome acoustic guitar solo by Ed during the breakdown, and then a crowd favorite from Throwing Copper, “Selling the Drama.”
Ed addressed the crowd again, talking about working with rocker Chris Daughtry and starting the “Bald Men Club.” The next two songs, “Drink” and “Zion,” were from the solo album, with Ed teaching the crowd to sing along to the intro of the latter. Both songs sounded amazing, “Zion” especially blew the album version out of the water. Next was “The Dolphin’s Cry,” the big hit from my favorite Live album, The Distance to Here. Clearly everyone loves that song, as the crowd ate up every second of it while Ed and his band jammed it like no other, especially the ending. Another solo album tune was next, “Stand,” with more audience participation during the intro. Afterward he spoke to us about his daughters, and the inspiration for the next song: “Heaven,” from Birds of Pray. The song led nicely into the next one, the first single from Ed’s solo album – “Grace.” He told us that the song was inspired by the Haitian earthquakes and his belief that even in the darkest tragedies there’s always a glimmer of hope. The main set finished with two more from Throwing Copper, “White, Discussion” and “I Alone.” The former, in particular, was one of the best performances of the night, and clearly one of the favorites among the crowd.
When “I Alone” was over the band exited the stage. More background music played overhead, and shortly after the guitarist, bassist, and drummer returned to the stage. They began to play the chorus to “Just in Time,” the final song of the night from Ed’s solo album. Ed returned to the stage in time to begin the first verse, and the encore was on. Next was “The Beauty of Gray,” going all the way back to Live’s debut album, Mental Jewelry. During the breakdown of the song Ed mentioned that he wrote it when he was 19, about the racial issues he observed where he was growing up. Following was “Lakini’s Juice” from Secret Samadhi, a song that just exploded out of the speakers and kicked everyone’s asses. Along with “The Dolphin’s Cry” and “White, Discussion,” it was one of the most energetic songs of the night and got the crowd moving. Finally the show ended with the quintessential Live track, “Lightning Crashes.” Ed teased the audience by saying no one will ever know what the song is truly about except for him, despite all of the interpretations he’s heard over the years. The song was amazing, and just as it came to an end the crowd could see the fireworks celebrating the end of Musikfest outside the window. When the show was over, the four musicians took a bow and left. The tech crew came up on the stage and handed out guitar picks and set lists, and the crowd disbursed to watch the fireworks and head out.
Here’s an older article about Ed’s inclusion in the Musikfest lineup, as well as an interview: http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/musikfest/index.ssf/2011/08/ed_kowalczyk_former_singer_of_live_discusses_returning_to_pennsylvania_new_band_members_and_creative.html
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