Living Colour – [Album]

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

A preamble: Since owner Hilly Kristal’s passing and the closure of his bar, CBGB, it seemed almost guaranteed that eventually someone would release some of the soundboard recordings from the venue; both the man and the business were too loved and considered too important to let fade into oblivion. That would be the romantic hope anyway. Happily, MVD has accepted the challenge and, even happier still, the quality is better than anyone could reasonably have expected to come from CeeBee’s rough, sticker-and-flier-adorned stage (some have contended that those ad hoc additions were the only thing holding it up) and the newest addition to the collection is a document from easily one of the best underrated bands in rock n’roll history: Living Colour.

While they might not have been the best-known rock band of their type to appear in the 1980s, Living Colour’s influence and the scope of their reach is easy to trace. Living Colour’s debut album didn’t even come out until 1988 but, by then, there were already lots of groups far larger than they singing the band’s praises; the Red Hot Chili Peppers convened in the same year as Living Colour (1983 on the "other" coast), but LC was the band that beat the path RHCP would navigate to greatness, they also helped to set the stage for Fishbone, Faith No More and all of Mike Patton’s subsequent projects. To put none too fine a point on the matter, while Jane’s Addiction’s reign of the new rock roost was brief, it probably wouldn’t have happened at all had Living Colour not connected the dots between crotch-grabbing white-boy metal-heads and the slippery swing of funk and thus imbuing one camp with a little crunch and the other with a little soul and swagger. Needless to say, Living Colour could have rested on laurels and, after twenty0two years, could have phoned in their show on August 19, 2005 at CBGC – but they didn’t.

From minute one of their dozen-song set, Living Colour pulls no punches and singer Corey Glover never backs down or shies away from the imposing wall of sound that guitarist Vernon Reid, Doug Wimbish (bass) and drummer Will Calhoun erect. Together, they deliver one hellacious punk, metal and funk-informed sonic right cross after another and, in spite of having played these songs hundreds of times over in their two-decades-plus career, never falters; Glover never drops a note to save his throat and shows no age either. Songs including “Middle Man,” “In Your Name,” “Ignorance Is Bliss” and the staple “Cult Of Personality” lay waste to the senses of those in attendance and Reid burns the whole thing down every time he opens up on a solo; making the throng watching weak in the knees in the process.

Taken on its own (as in, without taking into account the band’s studio output that has gone on to blend other genres into their stew too), the set works brilliantly as a sampler that touches all the points of the band’s career and, when assembled, paints a fairly remarkable portrait of the band. By turns they go from punk to funk to metal and acid jazz as well as peanut-butter-and-cucumber combinations of the lot (the pick of the litter from a running-the-gamut standpoint is “Funny Vibe” where everything gets lumped in together for an ecstatic meltdown) and, as they’ve always done but it still warrants the tag ‘somehow’, still end up coming out the victorious masters of all they attempt. As the set begins to wind down too, “Love Rears Its Ugly Head” still throws its weight around as one of the great anti-song of the mainstream “Me” generation and “Cult Of Personality” still has the power to whip an audience into a frenzy; and it does here.

Of course, not all great things – including this reunited Living Colour (who had been on-again-off-again since January 1995) – were to last. Shortly after this performance, Corey Glover took a job in the national tour of Jesus Christ Superstar as Judas (oh, the irony) in 2006 and the band was once again put on hiatus. However, there have been rumblings of a forthcoming new studio release from Living Colour in early 2009. Because of that, this Bowery Collection installment could be seen as a refresher record for fans that had written the band off that would handily function as a platform to re-launch the band next year. Even if that doesn’t happen though, fans will be thrilled to get this show; Living Colour had ventured beyond the height of their fanfare by 2005, but the record illustrates that they hadn’t lost a step.


Living Colour Online
Living Colour myspace

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