Words by: Matt Draper | Images by: Greg Aiello
Living Colour :: 10.30.09 :: Highline Ballroom :: New York, NY
When thinking about Living Colour, most music fans remember a funk-metal foursome who was a regular fixture on MTV in the early '90s. Sporting enough neon to guide an airplane in, their outfits matched their sound: a loud, explosive force comprised of many flavors.
26 years after forming in New York City, Living Colour returned to Manhattan's Highline Ballroom as part of a world tour in support of its fifth album, The Chair in the Doorway.
To be clear, this was not a reunion tour. Frontman Corey Glover has gone on record to say that despite each member's side projects, Living Colour has been together for nearly a decade following its eight-year hiatus. These side projects included Glover playing the role of Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar, bassist Doug Wimbish and drummer Will Calhoun forming the drum and bass group Head>>Fake, and guitarist Vernon Reid playing with a range of artists, including forming the Yohimbe Brothers with DJ Logic. However, with the new album and massive tour, the band has a feel of reinvention. Better put, this latest incarnation of Living Colour features the same blistering metal-funk rockers who, as we found out at the Highline, have an even greater arsenal of sounds.
From his first words ("We're baaaaaack!"), Glover commanded a vice grip on the sold out crowd, who was already fist-pumping during the first few lines of the band's opener, "Burning Bridges," an aggressive rock song that opens the new album. Glover led the way with his signature halting vocals, made all the more mesmerizing by his night-before-Halloween butcher costume, complete with goggles and leather apron. Calhoun and Wimbish drove the beat while Reid joined the fray to send the song home with his trademark wailing, dizzying guitar.
A pair of new songs, "The Chair" and "Decadance," followed next. "Chair," which, according to a recent JamBase interview served as the album's key metaphor, evoked a dark, hardcore feel with shouting vocals and deep, dripping bass lines, while "Decadance's" hard-charging metal sound echoed early Metallica.
| Vernon Reid :: 10.30 :: New York|
Reid stepped to the forefront in the next song, fan-favorite "Middle Man" from the band's first album, Vivid. As Reid made a flourish of short solos, Glover showed off his vocal range, moving from powerful chorus shouts to flying falsettos. Riding a fired-up crowd hanging on every lyric, Glover unleashed his snarl, which built up to an exploding guitar solo by Reid.
"Time's Up" followed, featuring Calhoun's pulsating, rapid-fire drums before moving into "Go Away," another dark, metal-tinged song. Mirroring many of the politically charged tunes from the Stain album, "Go Away" saw Glover twisting and lunging while belting out stinging lyrics on the topics of suffering and starvation. Reid was again let off his leash for a frenzied solo that seemed to climb higher with Glover's final chorus shout of "Go awaaaaaaay!" Exhausted, Glover stuck out his tongue as if to pant after the full-body workout.
Shifting gears, Calhoun laid down delicate drums to a sampled backing beat that led to "Method." The manufactured beats sandwiched between Living Colour's heavy live sound built a layered effect, adding a new – and welcome – contemporary element to the band's repertoire.
And then it was time for church. Summoning every ounce of gospel and soul, Glover took over the room with an extended vocal introduction to "Open Letter to a Landlord," Vivid's housing-project anthem. Standing at the mic, bathed in a yellow spotlight, it was hard not to be blown away by Glover's vocal command. As loud as it was beautiful, Glover hung onto the final word, "memories," for what seemed like 15 seconds before letting it vanish into Reid's ripping guitar. A large video screen behind Calhoun served as a visual of the lyrics, displaying dilapidated houses surrounded by flames.
| Corey Glover :: 10.30 :: New York|
The band then launched into "Bi," a standard funk-rock tune that quickly became a set highlight when a ferocious Wimbish, now wielding a tiger-patterned bass, hopped down into the crowd and launched into a raging solo that featured him playing with fingers and, yes, his teeth.
"Y'all ain't ready," said Glover to the frenzied crowd, which included a packed floor section and second level of seated diners, many of whom had abandoned their chairs. And we weren't ready, as Calhoun proceeded to slay the crowd with an eye-popping drum solo that made those played by Widespread Panic or The Dead seem like yawners in comparison. Clocking in at more than 10 minutes, Calhoun unleashed an onslaught of sonic weapons, manipulating drum-machines, smashing gongs, and hammering techno-triggered cymbals with neon-tipped drumsticks that made him look like the conductor of a firework show.
With all four members returning to the stage, the band moved back in time with a cover of The Temptations' "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone," that quickly moved into the old-school hit "Glamour Boys." Next was new one "Behind the Sun" followed by "Hard Times," a funky blues number, and "Out of Mind," a primal, stripped-down metal song warmly greeted by a few head-bangers in the front row.
| Doug Wimbish :: 10.30|
And just when the band appeared ready to turn it up another level, things took an unusual turn. While Glover spoke to the crowd between songs, he couldn't seem to take his eyes off Reid. What seemed like funny interplay between the two became a bit awkward, with Glover calling Reid a "crack head" several times (maybe for good reason - though Reid was killing it on guitar, he was shouting a steady stream of gibberish and at one point delayed a song when he didn't realize his axe wasn't plugged in).
A forgettable "Elvis is Dead" came next. Played at hyper-speed and featuring saxophone work by Jeff Smith, the song seemed to meander throughout. While impressive, Smith's solo never hit the song's high note and, with Reid looking a bit lost, the song came undone before transitioning to a short rendition of Elvis' "Hound Dog."
"Type," another crowd favorite, kicked the energy back up. The band sped up the studio version, striking a harder, faster tone before stopping on a dime to float into the tune's "children of concrete and steel" chorus. With the song changing tempos, Glover's vocals ebbed and flowed over Reid's crunching guitar licks, and the song melted into a soaring, reggae-inspired finish.
With the band hitting its stride – and with the brief drama behind it – a familiar voice boomed over the speakers. It was Malcolm X, whose soundbite, "And during the few moments that we have left...," serves as the introduction to "Cult of Personality," the band's biggest song that still, 20 years and a million worn-out cassette tapes later, carries an absolutely infectious hook. The crowd erupted with Reid's first guitar lick and ended up providing, via Glover's direction, back-up vocals through most of the song, including belting the last stanza at the top of its collective lungs.
The band returned for an encore, with Glover informing the crowd he and Reid were bickering backstage over the final song. After mentioning the options – "Love Rears Its Ugly Head" or "Asshole" – Reid piped up, "Why not both?"
| Living Colour :: 10.30 :: New York|
And that's what they did. "Love" came out tight and super funky, and "Asshole" added a melodic touch to finish the show.
The crowd was beyond satiated and the band left the stage to a sea of clapping hands and full-throttle screams. A long line waited to buy merchandise, and the post-show crowd spilling onto 16th Street sung high praise. Living Colour delivered a rollicking two hours of metal, rock, punk, funk, and even a bit of dance music with Calhoun's drum-circus solo. Minus a couple thrash-heavy metal tunes and Reid's end-of-show aloofness, they threw down. Simply put, the band came roaring out of the gate, mowing through old and new material with balance while adding some new flavors. While things have drastically changed in both New York (the Highline Ballroom didn't exist the last time the band put out an album) and the music industry (songs are now purchased electronically) since its beginnings, Living Colour continues to deliver a downright gripping live experience.
Living Colour :: 10.30.09 :: Highline Ballroom :: New York, NY
Burning Bridges, The Chair, Decadance, Middleman, Time's Up, Go Away, Method, Open Letter to a Landlord, Bi, Drum Solo, Papa was a Rollin' Stone, Glamour Boys, Behind the Sun, Hard Times, Out of Mind, Elvis is Dead, Hound Dog, Type, Cult of Personality
Encore: Love Rears Its Ugly Head, Asshole
JamBase | Colourful
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