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The Dam At Otter Creek

by Jav Rivera

The 1990s were flooded with the wave of alternative bands. Many of them came to the forefront of the public eye after releasing a ballad-type track. The band Live was no different. Although they had released several hard tunes like "Selling The Drama" and "I Alone", their popularity didn't really explode until their slower song, "Lightning Crashes." I was impressed by all of their singles and eventually bought their 1994 album, "Throwing Copper." As I played the album for the first time, I admit that the first track on the album, "The Dam At Otter Creek", didn't catch my attention. Due to its slow build, I probably didn't give it much of a chance. Instead, I skipped to the more hard-hitting tunes. Little did I know what was hiding in that little creek.

Album cover (artwork "Sisters of Mercy" by Peter Howson)
Live's second album, "Throwing Copper", contains some of the more potent lyrics and music within the 90s. To me, it's their best album. In fact, I never quite followed them after this album. The original line up consisted of Patrick Dahlheimer (bass), Chad Gracey (drums, backing vocals), Ed Kowalczyk (vocals, rhythm guitar), and Chad Taylor (lead guitar, backing vocals). I thought "Throwing Copper" was an interesting album with variety and intensity.

Eventually, as with all the albums I own, I put this one aside. Every once in a while I'd rediscover one of the tracks playing on my iTunes in shuffle mode. But it was years later -- maybe even ten -- that I put the album on and for the first time really took the time to listen to it in its entirety. I was totally shocked by the opening piece.

It begins with a lone guitar, the reverb echoing and sounding like it's just been plugged in with the strings ringing. In the background, distant voices can barely be heard. A few seconds later the main riff starts; the guitar sounds eerie and secluded. Ed's voice joins in quietly with his haunting lyrics:

When all that's left to do
Is reflect on what's been done
This is where sadness breathes
The sadness of everyone

Just like when the guys
Built the dam at Otter Creek
And all the water backed up
Deep enough to dive

We took the dead man in sheets to the river
Flanked by love
Deep enough to dive
Deep enough to dive
Be here now

We took him there and three
In a stretcher made from trees
That had passed in the storm
Leave the hearse behind
To leave the curse behind
Be here now

A minute and a half in, and Ed chants the line, "Oh be here now" over and over. A couple more bars of the main riff and a drum thumps in. The song changes into a slightly more frightening tone. Ed's voice isn't timid anymore; the cymbals ting and ting. A little more than two and half minutes into the song and you can feel the song about to switch into overdrive. 

The drums are thumping, bass driving, guitars blaring, and vocals have seemingly reach their peak. But just as you think it couldn't get more intense, at three and a half minutes, the song has lost complete control. The listener's head is spinning from the intensity for a few seconds, and then as if the song was drowning, the instruments stop. The ending feels like the notes from each member of the band are floating at the bottom of a river.

Original Band Members: Chad Gracey, Patrick Dahlheimer, Ed Kowalczyk, and Chad Taylor
What I find most compelling about the track is how much it stands apart from the rest of the album. Though "Throwing Copper" contains a nice variety, "The Dam At Otter Creek" seems in its own world: Ed's unusual vocals, the band's patience in letting a song build into the beast, and the sheer fact that it's the opening track to an album. Most albums will lead with a radio-friendly tune, but that just wasn't the case here.

For more information, visit Live's official site: www.freaks4live.com. And visit Ed's site here: www.edkowalczyk.com

TRIVIA: Original lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter Ed Kowalczyk left the band in 2009, though the band continues to tour and record.