Live, But Not Luscious

with Luscious Jackson
Queen Elizabeth Theatre
Vancouver, B.C.
Friday, September 12, 1997

Review by Gisele Grignet
Photography by Todd Duncan

I don't know if it was the early start time (7:30) or what, but the gals in Luscious Jackson did not seem very inspired this night. They walked out looking like it was laundry day -- hey, girls, I know you got better clothes than that, I saw the video. [ed. Though that does explain why they wouldn't allow pictures to be taken of them...] Then, muttering into the mic (almost as if to apologize), "We're Luscious Jackson," the DJ started spinning while the band strapped on their instruments, and we were off to a -- cough -- rip-roaring start.

Live guitarist I have to confess, I know next to nothing about LJ except what I've heard on commercial radio (not entirely unpleasant songs, if at times overplayed). But what I heard here wasn't anything like the recorded stuff I'd heard, and they didn't seem particularly enthused about playing, so neither was I about listening. In fairness, it didn't really help that their sound mix was just horrible.

Still, watching these girls was like watching elevator music. The beats never varied throughout the whole set, save for the tempo. (Hey, drum girl, live a little!) The only time they addressed the audience was to incite participation for a song, asking people to scream at appropriate moments. The sparse crowd gave it the old college try, but it just came off half-baked.

Well, at least I could look forward to their 'hit,' "Naked Eye." I honestly like the song and was looking forward to it. But could they pull it off live? Nope. I only recognized it because they made a big deal about it and changed the lighting. Five people did get up and dance, though. Maybe if the band stuck with one instrument each instead of switching with each other all the time... well, you know.

Live bassist Twenty-minute intermission. Thank God, because I really needed a drink after watching paint dry for a half hour.

Unfortunately the sound wasn't much better for Live: booming bass, piercing high-end and not much in between (turn up the guitar!). But they did have a really nice light show. It was strange to see it squeezed into the Queen E, because you could tell it was designed with an arena-type setting in mind.

The band opened with "Rattlesnake," from their new album, Secret Samadhi, which had everyone on their feet in a flash. Vocalist Ed was sporting a new bleached 'do and was doing his best to incite the audience during "Lakini's Juice," dancing around with enough energy for three.

The set moved on with a mix of old and new, with "Selling the Drama" and "Century." At one point, Ed remarked about how hot it was and un-buttoned his shirt, asking the audience to challenge the local topless laws (although he kept his shirt on), which was an appropriate setup for "Unsheath."

Ed "Ghost," one of the better tunes off the new album, was followed up with some older favorites: "Waitress" and "All Over You." Ed tried to get the audience to whistle the closing bit with him for "Waitress," but Vancouver had clearly failed Whistling 101. "Not like a football game whistle," scolded Ed. "A sing-along whistle."

After that, Live went back to the new, with the ballad, "Turn My Head," and that thing that happens with lighters at rock shows happened. Then came two of my favorite Live tunes; "Iris," off of Throwing Copper, and "Operation Spirit," from their first album, Mental Jewelry.

It was around there that it became clear to me what was nagging at me through the whole show: Live were really playing it safe and conventional. The show was entertaining, but there was something far too rehearsed about the whole thing. I've seen Live before and loved them, but that was back when they were playing smaller venues, and when nobody knew them -- maybe back when they had something to prove. But now? Clean and safe. Well, let's hope this is the end of their mellow faze.

First published in Drop-D Magazine on September 27, 1997

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