I first heard Ed Kowalczyk's voice in May 1995.
It was my first-ever trip to the USA. I'd left behind a vivid and vibrant green spring in Grenoble, France, and arrived to find a bleak, grey, bare-tree and wintery Denver. I'd left the warm conference hotel to explore the city and to buy breakfast, and I'd just experienced the stupid-customer treatment from the woman in the doughnut store. ("I'd like a coffee and a doughnut, please," I said, quite innocently, British accent and all. Where I came from there were two types of doughnuts: those with a hole, and those without. "Yeah, right. A donut. You want a donut." She looked at me like something that had just hatched and wasn't cute. I was obviously a foreign idiot who not only talked weird, but didn't know how to buy breakfast. I looked down in embarrassment, and only then noticed that there were a million different donuts and cakes (I know now they are "muffins") on display: frosted and sugared and chocolate-covered and sprinkled and cinnamon and apple and goodness-knows-what else...
Intimidated, I chose the most familiar-looking ball of fried dough. Then we had to repeat the whole process all over again, this time for a simple coffee. In France and England at that time, a coffee was just a coffee. It wasn't a grande-latte-decaff-nofat anything. It was just coffee. Black or white? Sugar? Simple binary choices with direct and simple answers.
(I hadn't yet experienced asking for salad. The salad-dressing-list-of-confusion was being saved up to ambush me later in the week.)
Bear with me: I'll get to the point of this review in a moment.
Suitably chastened, and clutching my hard-earned coffee (house, black, no sugar, tall) and donut (plain, sugared, in a bag), I retreated somewhere much safer--the music store on the other side of the downtown pedestrian street. It was warm, it was familiar... and it was filled with a really great voice and a song that was immediately familiar, even though I'd never heard Live or Ed Kowalczyk before.
The guy in the music store was much more helpful than Ms. Donut. I left the store with copies of both Throwing Copper and Mental Jewelry. (Either Live hadn't been heard in Europe then, or I'd somehow missed them... and they became firm favourites for many years. I still play them to this day.)
Last night, Ed Kowalczyk performed alone, with no band, no accompanist, no-one on stage with him, bringing a new meaning to "I Alone". Just Ed, two microphones, and a set of guitars. He entranced the enthusiastic audience at Sacramento's Assembly, performing songs from back-in-the-day Live right through to those from his latest solo album, The Flood and The Mercy. He warned of "era whiplash" as he jumped from new to old to new again: Mental Jewelry, Seven, Pain Lies on the Riverside, Angels on a Razor.. his version of Springsteen's "I'm On Fire"... Holy Water Tears from the new album, Heaven, I Alone. Overcome. Selling the Drama. Dance With You. And to finish an excellent show, Lightning Crashes. Bare bones: one man and his guitar. And it was just right.
Then entire show, Kowalczyk was bathed in pale, turquoise light like the water which flows so strong through many of his lyrics. He kept the audience engaged, responsive: some of whom will no doubt be making the trip down to San Francisco today, to see the next show of the tour.
The Assembly was the perfect setting for this show. It's small enough to be intimate, but big enough not to be cramped, with a large open floor area, wide bar, and comfy booths. The seating in the booths above-and-behind the bar gives a wonderful, close-to-the-stage view in comfort. The sound is really good: every word was clear (mostly due to Kowalczyk's annunciation, but credit must also be given to a very well set-up sound system, much appreciated by my ears!). There was a warmth in the interaction between performer and crowd. Serious fans from when Kowalczyk fronted Live, and new fans too.
A few more tour dates in California and Canada, and then some with a full band in Australia and New Zealand coming soon. See the Tour page on Ed Kowalczyk's website for more details.
See more photos from last night's show at the Assembly in Sacramento: http://www.alisontoon.com/edkowalczyk
(If you are not aware: Kowalczyk split with Live a while back, it wasn't a fun 'divorce', but it seems sorted now. I'm only writing about the music here.)