Live’s performance Friday before a packed house at the Wiltern laid bare what a bloated and boring version of its former self the band has become.
The group’s 1999 album, the impressive “The Distance to Here,” was a welcome return to form for the thoughtful York, Pa., rock quartet, which had nearly bogged down on its own zeal on its previous album, the overly ambitious and superficial “Secret Samadhi.”
Too bad, then, that the group’s fifth album, “V” (Radioactive/MCA), in many ways repeats missteps of the past; the most egregious offense comes in the form of vocalist Ed Kowalczyk’s rock star lyrical observations, which are mistakenly imputed with spirituality and profundity.
Weighty themes such as Eastern mysticism and theology have always helped separate Live from most of their contemporaries, with their focus on pleasure pursuits, and helped make them one of the more enjoyable post-Nirvana, major-label American rock groups.
Yet Kowalczyk’s latest lyrical efforts have crossed the line from inspired to formulaic and even disingenuous, repeatedly recalling the arena rock of the 1970s and ’80s. “‘Cause we need each other, we gotta love each other,” he sang in his distinctive and very dramatic style during opener “Simple Creed,” as if he were revealing the unknown secret to world peace. Strutting around the stage, Jim Morrison-style, in tight black trousers and unbuttoned shirt, Kowalczyk gave the impression of a self-satisfied celebrity only too eager to impart his wisdom.
The 90-minute show did include some memorable passages, notably the popular rocker “Lakini’s Juice,” which followed a very unworthy and ill-advised stab at John Lennon’s “Imagine” by Kowalczyk. The winning melodic hook of “All Over You,” an early-set entry, also scored.
The regular set concluded with the singer strolling the Wiltern aisles as he sang the uplifting “Lightning Crashes,” from the band’s best album, 1994’s “Throwing Copper,” followed by an extended version of the inspiring 1999 cut “The Dolphin’s Cry.” The encore brought another ’99 gem, the soaring “Run to the Water,” followed by the fan fave “I Alone,” which was nearly spoiled by the singer’s rambling and rancorous intro, during which he tossed barbs at such “evils” as MTV and corporate-run radio.
Live performs Nov. 6 at New York’s Roseland.