To many modern music fans, the name Ed Kowalczyk doesn't mean a thing. But ask a fan of 1990s alternative rock about him and you'll likely have a very excited music fan on your hands.
Through the 1990s and up to the mid-2000s, Kowalczyk led the band Live, which sold more than 20 million albums worldwide and charted eight Top 10 singles on the Billboard alternative rock charts.
The York, Pa., native is solo now, but will revisit many of Live's biggest hits as the headliner of the "Open Wings, Broken Strings" tour, which visits The State Theatre in State College at 8 p.m. Tuesday. The acoustic tour, which Kowalczyk founded, also will feature Emerson Hart, lead singer of Tonic, and Leigh Nash, lead singer of Sixpence None the Richer.
Former Live singer Ed Kowalczyk is taking his repertoire of rock hits on an acoustic tour.
"Being from that generation, I probably know their names better than some people, but their band names are huge," said Kristy Cyone, marketing and membership director at The State Theatre. "You pretty much know something that they've done."
Kowalczyk and three of his friends formed Live in middle school in York in the late 1980s and released their first mainstream album, "Mental Jewelry," in 1991. The follow-up record, "Throwing Copper," became an international hit and has sold more than eight million copies. The album featured four hit singles, including the No. 1 smashes "Lightning Crashes" and "Selling the Drama."
"Throwing Copper" was Live's peak, though their next two albums, 1997's "Secret Samhedi" and 1999's "The Distance to Here," also went platinum and produced hit singles. The band released two more albums and a greatest hits disc in the 2000s, but were never able to go platinum again.
If you go
What: "Open Wings, Broken Strings," featuring Ed Kowalczyk of Live, Emerson Hart of Tonic and Leigh Nash of Sixpence None the Richer
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: The State Theatre, State College
Tickets: $30. Available online at www.statetickets.org, by calling 272-0606 and at the theater box office
When Kowalczyk released his debut solo album, "Alive," in 2009, Live guitarist Chad Taylor released a statement that said the band was "on a two-year hiatus." That was soon followed by Taylor announcing the group's break would likely be permanent.
Last spring, the other three members of Live sued Kowalczyk, apparently for publishing royalties, but the singer won't discuss the case.
Hart and Tonic had their biggest success with the No. 1 rock song "If You Could Only See" in 1997. Hart released a solo album in 2007, then reunited Tonic, after a six-year hiatus, last year.
Nash led Sixpence None the Richer from 1992 to 2004, with the band reaching its apex in 1997 with their platinum-selling self-titled album. The disc featured the band's biggest hit, "Kiss Me," which reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The group reformed in 2008 and continues to tour.
The idea for an acoustic tour was a natural for Kowalczyk, 39, who says he has always written his songs on an acoustic guitar.
"A couple of years ago, I did my first full show with just an acoustic guitar and I just loved it," he said in a recent phone interview from his home in Southern California. "It opened a new dimension to my career. I really got into it, and I decided to brand it 'Open Wings, Broken Strings.' My gut said that other artists would be into this - and I was right."
The first iteration of the tour hit the road in 2009 and originally featured Nash and and Art Alexakis, the lead singer of Everclear. The show has been done several times since then.
"This is probably the fourth or fifth time we've done it," Kowalczyk said. "It's been out for a while now. It's just [done] from time to time when there's a window for it in our schedules."
Acoustic versions of Live's catalog of hits may seem like a tall order for fans of the band; the group's biggest songs were often heavy rockers, with electric guitars squealing all the while. But Kowalczyk, who wrote most of the group's songs, says the format works well with his old group's tunes.
"The amazing thing about it is they all started with just me and an acoustic guitar," he said. "I think what really changes is that my delivery gets kind of more intense. I have space to fill which isn't always there [because of the other instruments].
"People walk away not expecting it to have been that emotional, that intense."
The response to the tour has been satisfying in general. So satisfying, in fact, that Kowalczyk is integrating acoustic performances into his normal tours.
"I'm headed back out to do the 'Open Wings Broken Strings,' then I have a run of about five or six of my [solo] acoustic shows," he said. "March is all acoustic. I did mostly my full band, the rock stuff, for a few months, so it's fun to change it up."
And The State Theatre is the ideal place to show off that "change" says Cyone.
"I think the venue is perfect for acoustic sets," she said. "It's probably the best thing for this kind of venue because it's so intimate."
Mirror Staff Writer Keith Frederick is at 946-7466.