Life of Agony – River Runs Again Live 2003 Review

A brief history for the uninitiated: Life of Agony was a hardcore band from New York that didn’t really sound like their contemporaries. While many of them wrote about the streets, violence, and social outrage, LOA played the only way they knew how – from the heart. Vocalist Keith Caputo’s lyrics spoke of a life filled with pain, from the death of his mother at a young age, to the evils of drug use, to simple youthful angst and alienation. Over the course of three studio albums, they delivered their music the masses, garnering an impressive fanbase before unceremoniously splitting up shortly after Caputo’s exit (in the interim, ex-Ugly Kid Joe vocalist Whitfield Crane attempted to fill his shoes, then bassist Alan Robert). There had never been anything like them before, and probably wouldn’t be anything like them since. This was 1998.

Fast forward to 2002. Something called “emo-hardcore” has found favor amongst the masses, and coincidentally, LOA (who are arguably responsible for the genre) announces they will perform a special one-off reunion show in January 2003. The response is so overwhelming, a second date is added. Both nights are recorded for what would become the live album I now write about. What it best proves is that my previous statement is right – there will never be another Life of Agony, despite a sea of many that may aspire to such heights.

The double-disc set kicks off with the title track from their 1993 debut River Runs Red. Yup – the magic is still there, as the band crushes through the song with the fans screaming along to every word. It continues along with a focus on that album and 1995’s Ugly, considered by many to be their finest hour. Every track is seething with emotion, with passion, from “I Regret” to “Bad Seed” and everything in between – without ever getting all whiny-crybaby on you. Some say it takes a real man to show his emotion – and Life of Agony is ALL man.

Disc two has a more even mix of the two previously mentioned albums and 1997’s slight commercial breakthrough Soul Searching Sun. These latter songs have generally been their weaker material, and it really shows when placed up against the classic “Lost at 22” (from Ugly) and the anthemic closer “Through and Through”. The disc closes with a track from each of the members’ latest projects: Keith Caputo solo, Supermassiv (drummer Sal Abruscato), and Among Thieves (bassist Alan Robert). Keith’s solo stuff is usually great, but “Were What I Say” really falls flat; Supermassiv is your basic Godsmack/Alice in Chains radio rock; Among Thieves is just boring nu-metal. I can understand why they’d be included, but I doubt they will persuade anyone to buy these bands’ albums.

I speak and think very highly of this set, but I do have some minor complaints. The sounds here (guitar, vocals, etc.) are pretty much where the band left off with Soul Searching Sun – Caputo using a smoother delivery and less straight up screaming, and Joey Z’s guitar tone also being a bit lighter on the ears. As far as the material goes, they could have left off “Heroin Dreams” and “My Mind is Dangerous” and not many would have though twice about it. Furthermore, the usually powerful “Let’s Pretend” is presented here in watered down, solo acoustic form courtesy of Keith Caputo (who uses the song in his solo act, as well), and really sounds out of place here.

Those things aside, I dare say everything is perfect – even the sound, which is hit or miss on live discs. Since these shows, LOA has performed a few more on the East Coast as well as a European tour. Furthermore, a new album is slated for release in 2004. It’s safe to say that Life of Agony is BACK, ready to kick ass, take names, and show today’s kids what GOOD “emo-hardcore” is all about.

Posted by Dave Pirtle

Coffee. Black.

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